07 December 2012

Follow Friday: Family Tree DNA

Follow Friday is another Daily Blogging Prompt from GeneaBloggers in which genealogy bloggers write about websites, blogs, or other internet resources they are following or  using in their research and why other genealogy bloggers should consider using these resources. Today I'd like to write about Family Tree DNA and what I hope they will reveal for me.

I've blogged before about Sharon Leslie Morgan, the African-American author, speaker, and researcher who believes that we are related through a common connection to my great-great grandfather, James E. Leslie. She believes that James E. Leslie, a slaveholder, blacksmith, and Confederate veteran, had a relationship with one of his female slaves (or perhaps a slave belonging to another local slaveholder) and fathered a child who was her great-grandfather, Tom Leslie. Since we began corresponding and exchanging information earlier this summer, Sharon has encouraged me to submit a sample of my DNA for testing in hopes of proving or disproving our relationship. She persuaded her cousin Frank Leslie to submit a sample of his DNA for testing and there is no doubt that he shares DNA with white people who bear the Leslie surname, both in the United States and in Scotland. If I submit a sample of my DNA, and we compare the two, we can establish conclusively whether or not we share a common ancestor.

In November, Sharon e-mailed me to let me know that Family Tree DNA, the testing service that her family uses and prefers, is having a sale on their 37-marker Y-DNA test that can establish the male line of descent in a family. From now until 31 December, Family Tree DNA is offering their 37-marker Y-DNA test, normally $169, for just $119. Last night I took the plunge and ordered the test kit, which should be here in a few days. I've also joined the Leslie surname project, a pool of people with the Leslie surname who have submitted samples of their DNA for comparison. I'm excited and eager to find out what this test may reveal, but also a little nervous. This is a venture into unknown, unfamiliar territory. With just a little swab on my cheek and a few weeks of waiting for the analysis, I may reveal a long hidden family secret.

Thankful Thursday: Thankful for My Brother Allen

Allen Leslie
One of the best big brothers a genealogist
could have!
OK, OK, so I'm a day late with a Thankful Thursday Daily Blogging Prompt from GeneaBloggers.I've been away from the blog for awhile, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy.Thanksgiving, which we celebrated a few weeks ago, is of course a time to be thankful for all the good things we've received in life, but this year I had  special reason to be thankful. While I was visiting with my brother Allen and his family over the holiday, I asked him for copies of my parents' death certificates, in hopes of clearing up some conflicting information over their birth and death dates. As I was leaving, he presented me with a fat manilla folder stuffed with not only my parents' death certificates, but also their birth certificates, their original (civil) marriage license, a certificate documenting their marriage in the Catholic Church, and baptismal certificates for my mother and maternal grandmother, among other things. "I put in a few extras," he said nonchalantly.

The biggest surprise of all however, was a large white envelope containing a generous selection of my paternal grandmother's poetry. I knew that Grace Moffatt Leslie, or "Mother Grace," as my Dad called her, wrote poetry, but I didn't know that such a large quantity of it survived. Most of the sheets are typewritten and many are dated, so we know exactly when they were composed.There are also a couple of notepads worth of handwritten notes and drafts, but the handwriting looks like a painful crabbed scrawl. My grandmother suffered from chronic, debilitating arthritis for much of her adult life, and I think as the disease progressed, it must have been increasingly difficult for her to write by hand. I plan to read the poems, scan them, and post digital images of the best ones on the blog in the very near future.

By now, it should be obvious that I am very thankful for my brother Allen and his willingness to preserve these priceless family documents and make them available to me. Thank you, Allen!

05 October 2012

Follow Friday: The Civil War Diary of Charles F. Nelson

Charles F. Nelson
12th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment
ca. 1862

OK, so I've been away from genealogy research and this blog for a few weeks due to other time-wasting  activities (Darn you,  Netflix, and your Battlestar Galactica reruns!) but I'm going to attempt to resume regular genealogy blogging with today's entry. Follow Friday is another Daily Blogging Prompt from GeneaBloggers.

It's curious sometimes how my interests come together and intersect. I'm Catholic, and when I'm not doing genealogy research or geeking out on fantasy or science fiction, I frequently visit Catholic websites and listen to Catholic podcasts trying to learn more about my faith. Steve Nelson is the director of the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN), a network of Catholic blogs, websites, and podcasts dedicated to encouraging Catholics to live their faith more fully and reaching out to non-Catholics by talking about things that both Catholics and non-Catholics enjoy: movies, TV shows, music, comics, food, and health and fitness, among other topics. Recently, through a Facebook post and through one of the SQPN podcasts on which he's a frequent guest, Steve announced that he'd created a new blog that reproduces the Civil War diary of his great-great grandfather, Charles F. Nelson. Charles F. Nelson was a soldier in the 12th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment and a fifer in the regimental color guard.The diary describes his movements and activities throughout his wartime service. According to Steve:

Although he doesn’t write in great detail, Charles was witness to some of the most important events of the war, including the Siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea, and even the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, DC.

The diary was privately printed almost 100 years after the war by Franklin Vance Nelson, Charles F. Nelson's grandson. Steve received his copy from his grandfather, Franklin Jesse Nelson, a first cousin of Franklin Vance Nelson.

As Steve points out, the entries themselves are often terse and lacking in detail, but they do hint at some of the hardships and privations Charles F. Nelson and his comrades had to endure while in service, and the religious faith that helped Charles endure those hardships. This isn't really a surprise. As I noticed while asking my own father about his World War II experiences, veterans of war are often extremely reluctant to talk in great detail about their service. Perhaps there are extremely painful memories they would rather not recall; perhaps they have endured things that only a fellow veteran, someone who had been through similar experiences, could fully understand; perhaps they felt they were only doing their duty and didn't do anything really interesting or exciting; or perhaps they feel that experiences long past are best left in the past and forgotten.

Whatever the reasons for Charles F. Nelson's reticence, the diary does yield interesting details to the careful reader. Students of Civil War history, Indiana history, or Indiana genealogy may find useful information here. If nothing else it is an intriguing glimpse into a long vanished era and the daily life of an average soldier. It's obvious that Steve has lavished a great deal of time and effort on this project, using a very attractive website design and illustrating it with rare period artwork, including an absolutely priceless photograph of  Charles F. Nelson holding his fife and surrounded by his comrades in the color guard. I would love to have a similar photograph of my own great-great grandfather, James E. Leslie, who was a blacksmith in a Mississippi cavalry regiment. This is a priceless piece of Steve's family history that he has graciously shared with the whole internet. Please visit it soon.

14 September 2012

All in the Family

It looks as if other members of my family might have caught the genealogy/family history bug. My brother Allen may be the next victim.

I've previously blogged about the search for information about my Dad's World War II military service. When I received copies of reports of two accidents my Dad was involved in during his pilot training, I shared them with my brother Allen, who is both a licensed pilot himself and an artist of no small skill. Allen called me a few days ago to say that he had decided to create a painting of a P-51, the airplane Dad flew for most of his service. This led him to do research on the P-51, which in turn led him to do research on the structure and organization of the Air Force (or Army Air Forces, as it was known during World War II). During our phone conversation, Allen and I compared our memories of Dad's recollections of his wartime service.  I recalled Dad mentioning that he had flown with the U. S. 9th Air Force in England for a time, but I didn't know anything more specific. Using the data in the accident reports and my recollection as starting points, Allen did some internet sleuthing and now thinks he knows where and when our Dad may have been stationed in England. I went back to the website where I first found out about the accidents and reports,the wonderful U. S. Army Air Forces in World War II site and posted a query in their forums.

Remarkably, this query has already produced results. A user pointed me to The Newspaper Archive website with a brief article about my father:

The caption reads: "Big responsibility is in the capable hands of 19-year-old Second Lieut. William S. Leslie, above, Birmingham, Ala., who may soon pilot a B-24 Liberator over Axis targets. Believed to be the youngest four-engine pilot ever to graduate from an army air forces school, lieutenant Leslie completed his course at the Fort Worth, Tex., bomber base."

The clipping is from the (Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, Thursday, 25 February 1943, p. 3. Apparently, the story about Dad being the youngest pilot ever to complete four-engine training was run by newspapers across the country. We still don't know how or why Dad made the transition from four-engine bombers to single-engine fighters, and we still don't know for sure where or when Dad was in England, but we are searching for clues. As Sherlock Holmes would say, "The game is afoot!"

12 September 2012

Eleven Years and One Day Ago . . .

Yes, I know I'm a day late commemorating 9/11. But I didn't know if I could bring myself to remember that horrible day. I thought about commemorating the anniversary over on my other general interest blog It's All Straw, but somehow I just couldn't . Then Thomas McEntee, the host of GeneaBloggers, suggested that we should all write a commemorative post. Perhaps it will do me good. Here goes mine:

As genealogists, we all know that history is important; but so often we tend to focus on history on a small scale. What happened in our family? Our town? Our county? The doings of the great and powerful, events on the world stage that get written up in history books, sometimes seem to be of interest only insofar as they affect our ancestors. There are other times, however, when history in the largest sense reaches out and affects everyone of us. We can recall exactly where we were and exactly what we were doing when we heard that some great and terrible event had occurred. For people of my parents' generation, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941; for my older brothers and sisters, it's probably the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy in the 1960s; for me, it's 9/11.

On September 11, 2001, I had just gotten to work at my still new job as the Technical Services Librarian (cataloger) for a small county-run public library system in rural South Carolina. The weather was sunny and mild, much like it is today. At first, there was absolutely no hint that anything was wrong.

I had just stepped into our tiny break room to pour myself a cup of coffee before beginning the day's cataloging when the phone rang. My boss Salley, the library director, was calling from her home in the nearest city, about 45 minutes away, to tell Margaret, her administrative assistant, that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. It was only later that I learned that Salley had a daughter who was living and working in New York and trying to make it as an actress. No wonder it was so personal to her.

At first I thought this was perhaps just a tragic accident; perhaps the pilot of a small plane had become lost or disoriented or had suffered some catastrophic instrument failure. As Margaret rushed into the break room to turn on the TV and details of the crash began to emerge, it became clear that this was no accident. This was a large commercial jetliner. Minutes later came the second crash. As I watched in horror and disbelief, my mind reeling from the implications of the first two collisions, there came the news that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

I tried to stay calm and go about my daily routine, but it didn't do much good. My concentration was gone. I think I managed to catalog only two books that day. Every few minutes I would stop and sneak back into the break room trying to get more news. When I heard that the authorities had grounded all air traffic and effectively sealed off New York and Washington, D. C., I e-mailed two dear friends of mine who live in the greater Washington area to make sure they were all right. One of them, a professor at Gallaudet University, a school that serves the deaf, wrote back, "Please pray for our students. Many of them are scared and don't understand what's happening." They were not alone in that feeling. I e-mailed my nephew who is a federal employee. Suddenly I couldn't remember if he was still an Army reservist, and I was afraid for him. He was no longer in the Army reserves, but much later he was eventually deployed to Iraq for several months without incident.

I also e-mailed my immediate predecessor in the cataloger's job, who had moved on to another library.  I still felt like a rookie cataloger at the time, and I would frequently ask Melissa's advice on how to catalog a troublesome item. Our e-mail conversation naturally came around to the events of the day. "It's so horrible you can scarcely believe it's real," I wrote.

At lunchtime everyone piled into the break room, still glued to the TV. The library director, my boss, had asked me to dress professionally for work and wear a dress shirt and tie each day. That day I wore a light blue shirt and what I thought was a handsome copper-colored tie. I made the mistake of bringing a small tin of ravioli for lunch that day, and I was so preoccupied by the events on TV as I ate that I paid no attention as the ravioli spilled onto my tie. Every time I wore the tie after that, I managed to spill something on it.The tie eventually became so stained and discolored from repeated spills and dry cleanings that I eventually threw it away. Cursed, it seems, by a bad beginning, the tie came to a bad end.

I can remember pacing up and down in the staff room and murmuring, "This is war," when I should have been cataloging. Yes, you can pace, even in an electric wheelchair. That night I called my parents. "I just wanted to hear your voices and tell you that I love you," I said.

In the days after I can remember feeling the urge to sing patriotic songs such as the national anthem, "America the Beautiful," and "God Bless America," while fighting back tears as I sang. My country, my home, had been attacked as it never had before in my lifetime.

We are still living with the results and the aftermath of these attacks. What their ultimate results will be, no one can say. But we should never forget what happened that day.

06 September 2012

Lawyer Needed

Some legal research is needed.
Anybody know where I can find a good lawyer?

No, it isn't for me. I'm not in any legal trouble (I hope). But my great-great grandfather may have been. It seems my great-great grandfather, James E. Leslie (1823-1875) was involved in a legal matter that was ultimately adjudicated by the Alabama Supreme Court during their January 1860 term. The court rendered a decision in the case of Purcell's Adm'r [Administrator?] vs. Mather which can be found in Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Alabama, vol. XXXV, pp. 570-574. I found the text of the ruling via Google Books in a link supplied by Sharon Leslie Morgan. The ruling is brief but rather complicated and technical, concerning a contract my great-great grandfather made to hire a slave from another man, and the arrangements to pay for that hire. If the first link to Google Books I provided doesn't work, please go to the Google Books homepage, search for Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Alabama v. 35 and search inside the book for James E. Leslie.

I took one introductory law course in college years ago, but the legal issues in play in this case are way beyond my scant knowledge and ability to comprehend. What I'd like is for a lawyer to read the ruling and explain it to me in plain English (or in something as close to it as possible) so I know what's going on here. What are the issues involved? Was my great-great grandfather directly involved in this case or only peripherally involved in a dispute between other people? Was my great-great grandfather accused of or guilty of some kind of misconduct? I'd like to know in order to get some sense of the kind of person he was. Was he a saint or a scoundrel, or, like most of us, somewhere in between? Any help my fellow genealogists and family historians could give me in answering these questions would be a great help.

Thankful Thursday: Happy To Be Here

Thankful Thursday is another daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers. I'm back after a long, unintended hiatus, and that's what I'm thankful for today.

My genealogy research seemed to be cracking along in June and July, and then in August some things came up that brought everything to a more or less screeching halt: work for my church that had to be completed on a deadline and remodeling and renovation to my apartment: new siding on the building, new kitchen cabinets, new sinks, a new coat of paint, and new flooring. Oh, and by the way, I'm also thankful that a minor medical problem that I was concerned about turned out to be only a minor medical problem.

With all that going on, it was hard to concentrate, and then I had to remember where I left off and get back into the swing of things— but it's all coming back to me now. I'm unofficially collaborating with Sharon Leslie Morgan, author of the Our Black Ancestry blog to research James E. Leslie, my great-great grandfather, and the man she believes to be our common ancestor. Earlier this week at her request, I wrote letters to the church James E. belonged to and to the Lowndes County Alabama tax assessor's office requesting information about the man. Next, I'll write to the county courthouse in Hayneville to see what legal records I can find. Earlier today Sharon pointed me to James E. Leslie's Confederate military record on the Fold3 website. The record confirmed her belief that James E. came to Alabama from Iredell County, North Carolina, so we have a new place to hunt for records. I'm back on the trail of my ancestors, and it feels good!

21 August 2012

Things Have Been a Bit Disorganized

I may need to do a bit of tidying up.
OK, so you  may have noticed a lack of posts on this blog in recent weeks. My apologies for that. Some things came up: church work that had to be completed by a deadline and ongoing remodeling and renovation in my apartment. The church work is completed and in the rear view mirror, and I hope the renovation project will be done by the end of this week or some time next week at the latest. There may be one more period of "radio silence" yet to come when my carpeting gets torn up and replaced with tile. After that I hope everything will be back to what passes for normal around here and I can get on with the rest of my life. Until then, please bear with us.

24 July 2012

Tombstone Tuesday Twofer: William W., James E., and the Big Surprise

Tombstone Tuesday is another daily blogging prompt from Geneabloggers that turned out to be especially appropriate for me this week.

I've been away from the blog for a few days, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy with genealogical research. In fact this past week may have been my biggest yet so far in terms of discoveries and their emotional impact. What I found this week has changed my life. I found that I may have African-American ancestors and relations that I knew nothing about.

It all began innocently enough. I have a copy of my paternal grandfather's death certificate, which lists his father's name as William W. Leslie. I searched for William W. Leslie of Braggs, Lowndes County, Alabama on Ancestry.com and the following picture came up:
William W. Leslie, Oct. 3, 1851-Dec. 18, 1899.
New Bethel Braggs Cemetery, Lowndes County Alabama

(I have added the caption in case the inscription is difficult to read). I left an excited comment asking the person who posted the picture to contact me and share information. An African-American woman named Sharon Leslie Morgan replied, and invited me to continue the conversation further via e-mail. You can find the original photo and exchange of comments here. We began trading e-mails and documents, and the William W. Leslie she had found sounded like the William W. Leslie I was searching for. She is especially interested in the father of William W. Leslie, James E. Leslie, because in blog posts here, here, and here, she reflects on being a Leslie and discusses her conviction (or at least her supposition) that James E. Leslie (1823-1875) fathered a child with one of his black female slaves. That child was, or may have been, her great-grandfather, Tom Leslie. This is a photo of James E. Leslie's tombstone which she sent me:

James E. Leslie
Born Feb. 22, 1823
Died Mar. 1, 1875
"He left a Wife and three Children"
New Bethel Braggs Cemetery, Lowndes County, Alabama.

(Again, I added the caption in case the original inscription is hard to read).

The upshot of all of this, at least for me, is that I may have African-American ancestors and relations I  knew nothing about, a possibility that I (perhaps naively) had never considered. For much of the South's history, clandestine and unacknowledged interracial sexual unions (whether consensual or forced) and children resulting from those  unions were far more common than many people, white or black, were willing to admit. I knew this in an abstract, intellectual way from taking college courses in race relations and the history of the South, but there is a huge difference between understanding something as an abstract concept and seeing how it could affect the history of your own family.

I am still trying to process both my emotional reaction to this possibility and the evidence for it that Sharon Leslie Morgan has shared with me thus far. We both want to continue the conversation and gather and interpret more evidence, if it can be found. We agree that the evidence is not conclusive, but it is suggestive. There is much we both need to know before we can say with any certainty whether or not we are related through a common connection to James E. Leslie. We may not be able to resolve the question except through DNA testing.

If you'd like to know more about Sharon Leslie Morgan, she is the coauthor of a forthcoming book, Gather at the Table, due out in October. In the book, Ms. Morgan, a descendant of slaves, and Thomas DeWolf, a descendant of slave owners, discuss their experiences traveling across the country together doing research into their respective family histories and grappling with how the legacies of slavery and racism still affect them. Thomas DeWolf is a member of the Board of Directors of Coming to the Table, an organization that helps descendants of slaves and descendants of slave owners understand their common heritage and promote racial healing and reconciliation.

As for me, whatever happens, this experience has made me re-examine my concept of myself, my identity as a white Southerner, and my own attitudes on race and racism, and that can only be a good thing. It's good to take a good hard look at yourself every so often, and ask yourself what you really believe and why. As more than one philosopher has said, the unexamined life is not worth living.

Amanuensis Monday: Who Is George Neubauer, Part 2

Amanuensis Monday again?
A woman's work is never done.
I think I have just enough time to get this post in while it's still Monday.

In last week's Amanuensis Monday post, I introduced you to George Neubauer and explained his family's relationship to mine. Annie Neubauer was my maternal great-grandmother, but I'm not sure of Annie's relationship to George. Nevertheless, I have copies of two letters of his, written to his parents on successive New Year's Days, of 1873 and 1874 respectively. In the second of the two letters, he writes:

J. M. J.
[Jesus, Mary Joseph]

Dear Parents,

Another year has gone by and it is one year closer to death. In the past year I was not very obedient and caused you much sorrow. I thank you from my heart for the many favors extended to me and I wouldn't be able to count them even if I tried to. I am very sorry that I caused all that grief and trouble.

I promise you that I will become a good boy and will not cause so much worry as I have done in the past.

I wish you a Happy New Year, good health, long life, a blessed hour of dying and eternal life in heaven thereafter.

I close my letter in the name of J. M. J.

Your grateful G. Neubauer


Balto. 1 Jan. 1874
I notice that this letter is quite a bit shorter than the first one. Young George seems a bit rushed, and his emotions don't seem to be quite as heartfelt as he claimed they were in his first letter. Nevertheless, the two letters have much in common. The fact that they are written on successive New Year's Days suggests to me that this was some sort of annual ritual, one step beyond a New Year's Resolution. The language is very formal and very pious, very Victorian, very German, and very Catholic. The letters are addressed to "Dear Parents," not even "Dear Mama and Papa," or some other term of endearment. In both letters he apologizes for being a poorly behaved son during the previous year, and promises to be much better behaved in the year to come. He apologizes for causing his parents trouble and worry during the past year, but doesn't mention anything specific that he's sorry for. I wonder whether he'd really been doing anything that warranted such profuse apologies or whether this was to be expected as part of the ritual. I suspect he was a fairly young boy when these letters were written, and I wonder how much mischief he really could have gotten into.

Whatever the reasons and the circumstances behind these letters, I've always thought they were an intriguing glimpse into a vanished world.

18 July 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: My Mother's Definition of Heaven

Mom, Christmas 2005
Wisdom Wednesday is another daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.com in which bloggers recall life lessons, observations, and aphorisms passed on to them from preceding generations.

My mother, Cecilia Roberts Leslie (1924-2006), was one of the wisest people I ever knew, and towards the end of her life I heard her define heaven as, "the place where all the people you love know each other."

I think this is one of the most profound and beautiful things I ever heard, because with a little reflection, I can see how true it is. We are always going through stages of growth and change in our lives. We are born, we grow up, we go to school, we leave home to go to college, we travel in search of a job, we make a home,  we have a family of our own, and we grow older. As one stage ends, another begins, and we have to leave the previous stage behind. Yet at each stage we meet people, friends and family, that we come to know, to like, to care for, to cherish, and to love. Wouldn't it be cool if all those people knew each other? Haven't you ever met someone really extraordinary in your life, remembered someone else remarkable you have known, and thought, "I'll bet So-and-So would really like Such-and-Such. I wish they could meet!" If my mother's definition of heaven turns out to be anything close to the truth, all the people we love just might meet one day.

16 July 2012

Amanuensis Monday: Who Is George Neubauer?

Amanuensis Monday: You want me to do what?
Amanuensis Monday is another daily blogging prompt suggested by GeneaBloggers. When I first saw this prompt, my immediate reaction was "Amanu-what?" but when I read the description I was intrigued. The prompt is described this way:

An Amanuensis is a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another. Amanuensis Monday is a daily blogging theme which encourages the family historian to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin – some we never met – others we see a time in their life before we knew them.

Now that I know what an amanuensis is and what Amanuensis Monday is,  I realize I have some documents that will fill the bill quite nicely for this prompt. They involve my mother's side of the family, however, rather than my father's, and they'll take a little bit of explaining.

Annie Neubauer was my mother's grandmother, my maternal great-grandmother. She grew up in a German-American Catholic family in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The family spoke German at home, had German language prayer books, and wrote letters to each other in German in an elegant, formal hand. I have photocopies of two letters from George Neubauer to his parents dated 1 Jan 1873 and 1874 respectively, in  German, with English, translations attached. The original letters were handwritten, but the translations were typed on an old manual typewriter. I believe my uncle Eddie Roberts provided me with the photocopies of the letters, but I have no idea who translated them. I also have no idea of the relationship between Annie Neubauer and George Neubauer. I suspect (but do not know for sure) that George Neubauer was one of Annie Neubauer's brothers. In the first letter he writes:

Dear Parents,

I can not let this day go by without telling you my heartfelt feelings.

For the New Year I wish you the best of luck, the blessing of the Lord, a long life, and after a peaceful death eternal life in heaven.I particularly feel strong about these wishes thinking about the past years when you worked so hard to make a good child out of me. For the many favors which you extended on my body and soul I express my thanks deep from my heart and the dear Lord will reward you for it in heaven with an extraordinary blessing. In order to show you my gratefulness I promise to make you happy with a good and pious behavior. I will not let a day go by without having prayed for you. I know that in the last year I have worried you with my bad behavior. I am sorry and I ask you for forgiveness and in the New Year I will be a very different son.

In the hope that you will continue to take care of me in the same way I remain with love and devotion your thankful son George.


Balto. 1 Jan. 1873

Next week, I'll post the second of the two letters with my thoughts about both. In the meantime, if any of my GeneaBloggers colleagues who are researching the Neubauer family or German-American families, especially in the Baltimore area, could provide me with some guidance on how to identify George Neubauer and establish the relationship between George and Annie Neubauer, I would be most grateful. Danke schön!

15 July 2012

Sunday's Obituary: Cecilia Roberts Leslie (1924-2006)

Sunday's Obituary is another daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers.com. This is an obituary that I wrote for my mother, Cecilia Roberts Leslie after her passing in 2006:

Cecilia Allen Roberts Leslie of Indian Trail, N.C., was called home to God on Thursday June 29, 2006.

She died at home after an illness.

She was born October 19, 1924, in Columbia, SC, the daughter of the late John Cornelius Roberts of Columbia and the late Agnes Cecilia Allen Roberts, also of Columbia. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor's degree in journalism. After a brief career in radio and newspaper journalism, she married the late William Stewart Leslie of Birmingham, Alabama, and largely devoted herself to providing a loving and secure home for their six children. They were married for 55 years. For nearly 20 years, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie operated a retail business, Clocks & Crafts, in Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, SC.

Mrs. Leslie is survived by her six children: Susan Leslie of Charlotte, NC; John Stewart "Jay" Leslie of Dallas, Texas; William Farley Leslie of Chapel Hill, NC; Edward Allen Leslie of Indian Trail, NC; Mary Grace Leslie Davis of Little River, SC; and Neil Roberts Leslie of Marion, SC; five grandchildren; and two great grandchildren, She will be remembered for her unfailing wisdom, compassion, sense of humor, and strength of character, and will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

A memorial service for Mrs. Leslie is scheduled for Monday July 3 at 11 AM at St. Luke Catholic Church in Mint Hill, NC. The Rev. James F. Hawker will officiate.
I still miss her. Love you, Mom!

14 July 2012

Shopping Saturday: Braggs or Bragg's?

Braggs, Lowndes County, Alabama, as it appeared in
The New 11 x14 Atlas of the World, Rand McNally, 1895
. . . and the difference one little apostrophe can make. What does an apostrophe have to do with shopping, you ask? I'll explain.

Shopping Saturday is another daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers in which bloggers write about stores or shops that played important roles in their lives or the lives of their ancestors. I believe my paternal grandfather, Stewart Farley Leslie, came from a community that was named for a local store.

My grandfather was born in a tiny rural community (I don't know if t it was even formally incorporated as a town) in Lowndes County in south central Alabama called Braggs. In an old U. S. Atlas, circa 1895, it appears approximately halfway between Fort Deposit and Letohatchee. My father, who spent at least one boyhood summer there with my grandfather's relatives, used to laugh and say that it was the kind of place "you had to want to get to." Meaning, I suppose, that it was so small and out of the way that one didn't just blunder across it by accident. In some sources I've seen, the name of the place is written as Braggs, and in others it's written as Bragg's.

Why quibble over one little apostrophe? Because it can give you a clue to the origin of the place. I was searching FamilySearch.org one night in June, looking for information about my grandfather, when I found a 1900 census record listing his residence as "Precincts 5-6 Farmersville, Bragg's Store, Lowndes, Alabama." The apostrophe was there, perhaps, because the name of the place was originally Bragg's  Store. I'm just theorizing here, but possibly it could have been a trading post or a way station along the route to somewhere else. A cluster of houses grew up around it. A community was born. Over time, for the sake of convenience, (or perhaps the store went out of business), the name was shortened to Braggs and the apostrophe was dropped.

Interestingly, in that same census record, there is no mention of my great-grandfather (my grandfather's father) and my great-grandmother (my grandfather's mother) is listed as head of household. I believe my great-grandfather (whose name, I believe, was William Wright Leslie) must have died before 1900. Perhaps my great-grandmother, Janie Cora Peake (She appears on the record as Janie C. Leslie), wanted to be near the store in hopes of making a living and supporting her young children. I estimate that my grandfather would have been about 13 in 1900. His older sister Mabel would have been about 14, and his three younger brothers, William W., James B., and Henry E. would have been about 10, 6, and 4 years old respectively. If anyone can help me verify this, I'd be most grateful.

THAT'S the difference one little apostrophe can make, and THAT'S the connection between a little apostrophe and shopping.

Follow Friday: Alabama Blogs

Alabama is the red one.
One of the daily blogging prompts at GeneaBloggers is "Follow Friday" in which bloggers write about blogs, blog posts, or websites they are following in their research and why they find them useful. I'm only getting around to this prompt today (Saturday) but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. Beginning last night and continuing today, I've added all the blogs currently available in the Alabama Genealogy category of GeneaBloggers to my blogroll. That may seem like overdoing it a little, but I figure that since I'm really just getting started with my research, I have no idea where clues to my paternal Alabama ancestors might turn up. I'd like to meet bloggers with connections to the same state I'm researching in the hopes that they can point me in the right directions and share what they've learned with me. As my research into my mother's side of the family expands, I want to make similar connections with South Carolina and Virginia genealogy bloggers.

12 July 2012

Thankful Thursday: Thankful for The Internet

This is my first post using the series of daily blogging prompts available at GeneaBloggers.com. When I saw that one of the prompts for today was "Thankful Thursday," I just had to write this one because it's so easy.

I'm thankful for the Internet.

I have a disability and some related health problems that make working and even getting out of the house occasionally quite a bit more challenging than they would otherwise be. Going to genealogy conferences, the state archives, the local genealogical society, or even the county courthouse to do research would all require some careful planning and forethought. With a computer and an internet connection, however, many of the challenges of logistics and transportation: "How am I gonna get from here to there?" are substantially reduced, if not completely eliminated.

 On sites such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org I can surf through millions of records and discover surprising things about my family from the comfort and privacy of my own home and easily integrate my findings into my genealogy database software. I can upload my family tree, complete with notes and documentation, to the Web so that family, friends, and other researchers can see what I've found no matter where I am and no matter where they are. Via e-mail I can communicate with genealogists across the country or around the world. If I listen to genealogy podcasts, I can get tips and advice from experts in the field, almost as if I were fortunate enough to hear them speak in person. Barriers of time and distance seem to shrink when I use the 'net. While I know that nothing can take the place of a face-to-face meeting with another human flesh and blood human being, and that not every record I might need will be in an online database somewhere, I also know that the internet and its resources give me powerful tools I've never had before. For that I am profoundly grateful.

Now a Member of GeneaBloggers

I'm pleased to announce that this blog is now a member of GeneaBloggers, an association of over 2,500 blogs on genealogy and family history, according to founder Thomas McEntee. (Check out the snazzy logo over there on the top right). I've been listed among the Alabama and Scottish-related genealogy blogs, naturally enough, and I will  ask for a cross-listing among South Carolina  genealogy blogs in the near future.

I'm delighted to join such a large community of like-minded bloggers and genealogists from whom I can learn and with whom I can share what I learn along the way. The sole requirement for membership in GeneaBloggers is that "you must either author a blog related to genealogy and family history or you are a reader of these types of blogs." I'd say I meet both of these conditions. I'm writing a genealogy blog now, and have been and will be reading genealogy blogs in the future. I'm sure the GeneaBloggers blogs I find most interesting and useful  will wind up on my blogroll soon.

The GeneaBloggers site includes a Blog Resources section with links to sites offering advice on topics such as customizing the look of your genealogy blog and finding free blog templates. There are also daily blogging prompts to stimulate thought and creativity and generate posts. I'll be posting articles based on these prompts very soon.

In short, I'm happy to be a member of GeneaBloggers!

10 July 2012

Getting Organized, Digitally

 A few days ago I received a comment on this post about getting organized from Shack, the Ancestry Ace, host of the Ancestry Aces page on Google+. He had some very kind and encouraging words to say about this blog and my family history research, and he asked a question that made me think and experiment with new ways of doing things. I decided his question deserved its own post and response rather than just a simple reply in the comments box. He writes:

Hi Niall,

I found your blog today and enjoyed reading about your organizing efforts. I've been working with my mom to collaborate in doing some genealogy research. She has a lot of her research documented in paper form which lends itself well to the process you described with labels and binders. I have taken an approach slanted more towards digitizing my research documentation. I prefer to save copies as .jpgs or image files so that I can tag them for easy retrieval. I still find and keep paper versions but prefer to keep my main copy as a digital one. Do you have thoughts/plans about how you may integrate digital copies into your documentation system?
My HP OfficeJet J3680 printer/copier/scanner/fax

Best of luck,

Shack - The Ancestry Ace

Hi Shack! Thanks for your kind words, and best of luck to you too in your own research.

The short answer to your question is I'm just beginning to think about the possibilities for digital filing and archiving of information. I have an "all-in-one" printer/copier/scanner/fax machine, but until now I've rarely used the scanner, so believe it or not, this is still relatively new technology and unexplored territory for me. I had an "Ah hah!" moment the other day when I decided I wanted to transcribe some information I had about some Scottish Leslies. The information is interesting, but I'm not sure where it came from, or even if the Leslies mentioned in the document are direct ancestors of mine. I wanted to record this information and have fast electronic access to it, but how? It finally dawned on me that by scanning the document, I could save myself hours of tedious re-typing.
Evernote can be a powerful tool for genealogists

I had another "Ah hah! moment when I read an article by Dick Eastman, author and host of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter about how the free note-taking application Evernote could be a really powerful tool for genealogists. (Unfortunately, the full article is available only to paid subscribers to EOGN, but you can get a three-month subscription for a mere $5.95. Try it and see if you like it. Such a deal!)

In the article Dick compares Evernote to the electronic version of a pad of Post-It notes that could record and store data in a huge variety of formats: free-form text, jpegs, PDFs, audio and video, and even entire web pages; the perfect place to store potentially useful stuff you're not quite sure what to do with.  If you add tags or keywords or type a few letters of the keyword, notes with those keywords can be instantly retrieved. Evernote also creates copies of your notes and stores them in the cloud, so that if something catastrophic happens to your computer, your notes aren't lost.

Using my scanner and Evernote, I came up with a solution to the problem of the document about the Scottish Leslies. I scanned each page of the document (I'm still trying to figure out how to scan multi-page documents) and converted each page to a PDF and a note using Evernote. The pages are quickly and easily readable any time I want them, without having to dig through my paper files.

The implications of this are huge. There are many documents I could scan and turn into notes using Evernote. The trick will be figuring out how to make the best use of these new resources.

21 June 2012

And Now a Little Family History Humor . . .

Via my Facebook Friend Anjelica Timms-Bush.
Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version of the image.

18 June 2012

"The Longest Wait"

I saw this on another blog I read and was extraordinarily moved by it, having just been through a similar experience of finding out more about my own father's World War II military service. Peggy Harris never got a straight answer when she asked about what happened to her her husband Billie, a fighter pilot who disappeared in France in 1944. Nevertheless, she remained faithful, constant, and persistent until she finally discovered the truth:

Now, after all these years, she finally knows what really happened to her beloved husband, and she knows he is a man she can be proud of. This is a story about the value of patience, persistence, tenacity, and family history research. In this case, knowing the truth about her family history didn't just satisfy Peggy Harris's abstract intellectual curiosity—it helped heal her aching heart.

16 June 2012

More About My Dad

2nd Lieutenant William S. Leslie
9 Oct 1943, Age 20
So young!
Friday morning I got a long-awaited letter from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in response to my latest requests for my father's World War II service records. My search was partially successful. It confirmed that I had indeed found his wartime serial number (0-668096) and it also confirmed my long-held suspicion that his complete service records, if they were ever held there, were destroyed in a fire in July 1973. However, the letter also stated that, "[w]e used alternate sources to reconstruct some record data lost in the fire," and included two copies of a Certification of Military Service that includes his complete dates of service, including a short period as an enlisted man that I did not know about. I am so very proud.

The date of his enlistment conflicts slightly with some other information that I have (ironically, also supplied by the National Archives and Records Administration which oversees the National Personnel Records Center), so I may have to look into this further to make sure the details are correct. Also, although the caption on the original photo of my Dad identifies him as a 1st Lieutenant as of October 1943, I believe he was actually a 2nd Lieutenant at the time. The accident reports I mentioned in a previous entry bear this out.

11 June 2012

I Found My Dad!

Caption on the back of the original photo reads:
"1st Lt. William S. Leslie, 20 years old, Oct. 9 1943"
(Scanned image supplied by William F. Leslie)
This was a big weekend for me. I found my Dad.

Early Saturday morning I received a long-awaited e-mail from Craig Fuller of the Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) website that maintains a database of accident reports involving World War II aircraft. The e-mail contained a link to a page where I could download copies of two reports of two accidents involving my father, William Stewart Leslie, during his pilot training in World War II. The serial number of the "Leslie, William S." in these reports matches exactly the serial number on a set of dog tags in my family's possession, so I know this is my Dad. Now that I know for certain his rank and serial number and the group and squadron he was attached to at the time of the accidents, I can use these pieces of information to try and locate more details about his military service.

In the first accident, he was returning to Camp Campbell (now Fort Campbell), Kentucky after a routine cross-country training flight early on the morning of 15 August 1943. He landed about ten feet short of the end of the runway because the sun was in his eyes, and when he landed, the spindle supporting the left landing gear on his Bell P-39F AirCobra broke, causing the landing gear on that side to collapse. The board investigating the accident concluded:

Bell P-39F AirCobra with U. S. Army Air Forces Markings
Although pilot did land a few feet short of hard surfaced runway due to the fact that his visual judgment was hindered because he was landing into the sun at 0830 o'clock, it is not the opinion of the board that this fact would have been a factor in causing the landing gear to fail. It is a known fact that landing gear spindles on P-39 Airplanes are light and delicate. It is believed that spindle had Crystallized and cracked.

In the second accident, he was leaving Camp Campbell for another routine cross country training flight on the afternoon of 25 October 1943 when ice formed in the carburetor of his North American P-51 Mustang, causing a sudden and and complete engine failure. The official report reads:

North American P-51 Mustang
"After about 50 minutes of flying there was a tremendous backfire and engine failed. Pilot made crash landing, wheels up" in a farmer's cornfield near Scottsville, Kentucky.

The board investigating the accident recommended "that pilots be directed to use full carburetor heat when atmospheric conditions indicate that moderate to severe icing conditions exist," and "That WILLIAM S. LESLIE, 2nd Lt. Air Corps, Res., be relieved of all responsibility in this accident."

I'm relieved to know that in both cases, the investigating boards concluded that Dad did not cause or was not directly responsible for the accident.  A pilot is always ultimately responsible for everything that happens on board his aircraft, but apparently in these cases there were mitigating circumstances. A severe enough accident might have caused Dad to wash out of pilot training, which I think might have broken his heart. Dad loved flying.

I admire his persistence, too. One accident is one thing, but after the second one, I would have considered the Quartermaster Corps or the Navy!

07 June 2012

A Picture Worth More Than A Thousand Words

From the Security Federal historic photograph collection,
courtesy of the Richland County Public Library.
I've received permission from Debbie Bloom, Manager of the Walker Local History Room at Richland County (SC) Public Library to reproduce this photograph of Columbia, South Carolina's Main Street as it appeared before 1900, with the old city hall building in the background and to the right. The original photograph was given to the library by Security Federal Savings and Loan Association of Columbia. The digital image is part of the library's Flickr stream and Local History Digital Library collections. I'd like to thank Ms. Bloom for allowing me to reproduce the image and for her enthusiastic support of my genealogical research.

This photo has come to mean a lot to me even though I'd never seen it before a few days ago. As I explained in this post, my maternal great-grandfather Joseph R. Allen, was the auditor for the city of Columbia during the 1890s. He worked in that old city hall building. When a fire destroyed the building on the night of 30 March 1899, he went into his burning office and risked his life to retrieve valuable city documents. When I went looking for an appropriate image for that previous blog post, I found this picture. Since it was part of the library's collections, I wanted to ask permission before posting it, and that's how I met Debbie Bloom. Doing family history research is one thing, but when you can find a visible, tangible reminder of your ancestors and the worlds they lived in, and make new friends in the process, that's really something special. Thank you, Debbie Bloom.

06 June 2012

Historical Minute Books of Columbia (SC) City Council Now Online

Attention, historians, genealogists, residents of Columbia, South Carolina and anyone else with an interest in the history of South Carolina's capital city: Minutes of meetings of Columbia City Council during the 19th century are now available online. The first volume of minutes covering meetings from January 1883 to September 1886 is available for viewing here. Other volumes will be available over time..

I learned this from Debbie Bloom, Manager of the Walker Local History Room at the Richland County (SC) Public Library. We were discussing my maternal great-grandfather, Joseph R. Allen, who was auditor for the city of Columbia during the 1890s. I'll be checking through those minute books periodically to see how often "Pappa Joe" pops up. The digital minute books are part of the South Carolina Digital Library, a collaboration between major libraries across the state..The digital minute book pages are hosted by Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina.

These are scanned image of the original handwritten pages, not transcriptions, so those not familiar with 19th century handwriting styles (like me) may find these books challenging to read. There is a table of contents with meetings arranged by month and year, and there are links for individual pages in the minute book. Manipulating the image viewing application to view a particular portion of a page may also be a little tricky at first.

Nevertheless, these pages could be a gold mine of information for anyone who wants to know more about historic Columbia. In these pages, important decisions in the city's past were recorded as they were made by the people who made them.

A Gem From My Files

While organizing my paper files and records this weekend, I found a gem that I had previously overlooked: a photocopy of a newspaper article from 1899 describing a heroic act by one of my ancestors.

According to my mother and my uncle, my maternal great-grandfather, Joseph R. "Pappa Joe" Allen (born about 1866) was the auditor for the city of Columbia, South Carolina in the 1890s and a Major in the South Carolina Militia (which later became the National Guard). A fire on the evening of 30 March 1899 destroyed the city hall, but Pappa Joe went into the burning building and risked his own life to retrieve valuable city records. To see a photo of Columbia's Main Street as it appeared some time before 1900,  with the old city hall in the background, click here. The explanatory notes accompanying the photograph mention the fire that destroyed the old city hall. The image is part of the Richland County (SC) Public Library Flickr stream and Local History Digital Library. I'd like to thank Debbie Bloom, Manager of the Walker Local History Room at RCPL for being so courteous and enthusiastic in granting permission to post the link. You can find her blog, "The Dead Librarian," newly added to the blogroll over there on the right

 In 1999, my uncle Eddie sent me a photocopy of the original newspaper story about the fire (probably from a microfilm reel) as reported by The State, Columbia's leading newspaper, in their morning edition of 31 March 1899. I found the photocopy hard to read, so I put it aside and largely forgot about it—until Sunday.

I still found the photocopy hard to read for a variety of reasons: parts of it were illegible, and the original newspaper broadsheet must have been much wider than standard, U. S. letter sized sheets of paper, making it difficult to copy the story legibly. I decided to read and transcribe as much of the article as I could, and  once I started, I found it a fascinating and sometimes unintentionally amusing piece of cultural history. Even though the events it described were tragic, the highly overwrought, florid, and sentimental 19th century language and writing style sometimes make it hard for a modern reader to take the story seriously. Here, for example, are the original headlines and the opening three paragraphs. I retained the original spelling and punctuation:


Columbia's City Hall and Opera House Totally Destroyed
Telegraphic Communication Cut Off for Several Hours—Firemen's Splendid Work Prevents a General Conflagration in the Heart of the City—The Complete Story.

Columbia is today and for the time being a city without her electric fire alarm and police headquarters, fire alarm bell, opera house, Postal Telegraph office, armory, veterans headquarters, lodge rooms, public library and police courtrooms, not to mention the business houses lost. For a time last night it looked as if the most important section of the business centre [sic] of the city was to be laid in ashes despite the heroic and untiring efforts of the firemen to check flames that spread with the startling rapidity of a prairie fire. At times it seemed inevitable that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property was going to ascend in smoke, for the wind blew strong south by southwest and the shower of red hot embers was continuous and alarming.

Not since the historic visitation of Sherman to Columbia has the capital of South Carolina seen such a conflagration as that which cast a lurid glare over the heavens for two hours last evening and sent millions of glowing embers hundreds of feet into the smoke-filled air, only to descend with the picturesqueness of one of Pain's most beautiful fiery showers. There have been fires here, perhaps resulting in as great a money loss, but none have equalled [sic] the display of last evening.

Columbia's city hall building at the corner of Main and Washington streets has been completely destroyed by fire: it is now a great heap of ruins and in the smouldering [sic] pile are the ashes of many valuable records and plenty of other costly property, including a collection of theatrical scenery that it has taken years to accumulate. As a result the city is temporarily without her fire and police systems and many other inconveniences to the public will result.
The article goes on at great length to explain the history and condition of the building, and the way the fire was detected and fought, but only much later does the writer explain that the cause of the fire was unknown:

It may have been a cigarette stump thrown down by some of the stage hands, or it may have been a defective electric wire, or a match nibbled by a rat. No effort to ascertain the origin has been of any avail.

The paragraph describing my ancestor, Joseph R. Allen, has the subhead "A GALLANT OFFICIAL" and reads:

The difficult problem was the saving of the absolutely necessary city rec[ords?] . . . auditor deserves the thanks of the city. Mr. Allen got to the building before any water was thrown and immediately entered the auditor's office, got all of the auditor's books and papers and all of the city clerk's that were not in the safe, the tax books and minute books running back for a period of 10 or 11 years, carried them to the front of the building and threw them through a window of the council chamber. While there the smoke was almost stifling and the heavy weights from the bell tower fell tumbling within 10 feet of him, but nothing daunted he remained long enough to accomplish his purpose and crawled out the building on a ladder placed over McKay's back door. He was repeatedly urged to come down but he remained long enough to finish throwing the balance of the books out of the back window. But for Mr. Allen a great many valuable records would have been lost.

 Way to go, Pappa Joe!

04 June 2012

Making Progress in Getting Organized

My usual method of tidying up!
A few entries ago, I mentioned that I had a miscellaneous mishmash of paper files of various kinds from various sources, all containing useful bits of genealogical information, and no idea how to organize them. I think I'm making progress towards getting things under control. In this article, Kimberly Powell, the "Guide" or expert on genealogical topics over at About.com suggests a simple system of folders in different colors (or with different colored labels) with a different color for each surname or family group being researched. I had bought a hanging file box and a set of folders in various colors, so this seemed to make perfect sense.

On my Dad's side of the family, I chose red for the Leslies, orange for the Leatherwoods, and yellow for the Moffatts. On my Mom's side of the family, I chose light blue for the Roberts, darker blue for the Allens (I happened to have folders in two different shades of blue), and green for the Neubauers. I know I said I was going to focus my attention on the Leslies, but I have miscellaneous documents pertaining to all these families, and I wanted to make sure they were all filed and accounted for.

Since I have several folders in each color and surname, I can begin by keeping all the documents for one surname in one folder, but as the research continues and I accumulate more documents I can subdivide the documents and place them in different folders depending on the types of documents I have: e. g., birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, census records, wills, letters, etc. For example, I have miscellaneous Leslie documents in the main red Leslie folder, but also have documents relating to my Dad's military service in a separate red Leslie folder. I also have separate a separate folder for documents pertaining to my genealogy software and a folder for blank pedigree and family group charts in case I need them.

I like the folders with slots in the edges for adjustable plastic tabs with paper inserts. You should be able to find these at any office supply store. You simply write a label on the paper insert, slide it into the plastic tab, and slide the tab into the slots on the folder. The tabs can be easily adjusted or staggered so that you can easily read the label on the folder no matter where it is in the file box.

After a weekend's work, I have just about everything filed and sorted. I know what goes where. This system seems logical, uncomplicated, and easy to use. If you have any suggestions about how to improve the system, please let me know by leaving a comment or sending an e-mail.

30 May 2012

Blogroll Added!

As promised, I've added a blogroll of other great genealogy blogs. Many of these were recommended by Lisa Louise Cooke in her "Family History: Genealogy Made Easy" podcast, and created  by listeners to the show. The blogs often chronicle the writer's research process, but each writer takes a distinctly personal approach, so each blog has its own flavor. Some of the blogs have been updated recently, while others haven't had a new post in several years, but I'm going to be scanning them all for hints, tips, and tricks on how to make this blog better. I'll also be on the lookout for other genealogy and family history blogs that I can add to the roll.

By the way, even though Lisa Louise Cooke has not released a new episode of the Family History podcast in several years, I still find the existing episodes useful for beginning genealogists like me.. Her current podcast, "Genealogy Gems," seems to be aimed at more experienced genealogists, but a newcomer can still pick up lots of useful information. I recommend both shows.

27 May 2012

Searching For Dad

William Stewart Leslie (1923-2005)
As I've said before, I'm a rookie genealogist, but I do know that the cardinal rule of this undertaking is to start with yourself and work backward. Wouldn't you know it, the moment I begin working backward to the generation preceding me, my father's generation, I run into a problem--and a possible solution.

I've also said before that as part of this project, I'd like to know more about what my father, William Stewart Leslie (1923-2005) did during World War II. Perhaps there were some things he didn't want me to know, or things he would have rather forgotten. One of my great regrets after his death in 2005 was that I had never asked him more about what he did during those years. He would tell us kids funny stories, things that made the whole experience sound like a lark, an episode of "Hogan's Heroes," or a Boy Scout camping trip. I knew that he served in the U.S. Ninth Air Force, was stationed in England for a time, and flew P-51 fighter planes, but that was about it. I never even knew what specific unit or units he belonged to.

After the dedication of the World War II Veterans Memorial, after he died, and after the release of films such as Saving Private Ryan and The War, Ken Burns's mammoth documentary series about World War II, I resolved to find out more about Dad's military service. I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis twice in 2007 asking for copies of Dad's service record, but they were unable to locate any information about him. It's possible that I did not have enough specific information about him to locate his records, or it may be possible that his records were lost. The NPRC sent me back a form letter explaining that a fire there in 1973 damaged or destroyed thousands of records, and from the way the letter described the damage to the building, Dad's records would have been stored where the damage was worst.

In the meantime, I did a Google search for "U. S. Ninth Air Force in World War II" and turned up the marvelously useful ArmyAirForces.com website. Here, veterans, children and grandchildren of veterans, researchers, and military history buffs can meet in cyberspace, ask and answer questions, and exchange information. There I learned that the military service that preceded the current U. S. Air Force was known as the U. S. Army Air Forces (plural) as distinct from the Army Air Corps. I also learned about Craig Fuller's Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) website which maintains a database of accident reports involving World War II aircraft. When I searched the database, I found that "Leslie, William S." of the 15th Squadron, 73rd Reconnaissance Group,was involved in two training accidents near what was then Camp Campbell, KY. One of them involved a P-51.

At about the same time, my brother Allen discovered a set of dog tags bearing what appears to be a serial number: "0-668096.T 42-43" On 17 May of this year I submitted a new request for Dad's service records to the NPRC with this new number as the serial number, in the hopes that this would lead to Dad's records finally being found, if they still exist. I'm still waiting for a reply.

In the meantime, I'm about to order copies of the two accidents that appear to involve my Dad, on the theory that such reports would certainly contain his serial number, rank, and information about what units he was assigned to. I also downloaded a sample accident report from AAIR's database to see what one looked like. What I found there encourages me that I may have found Dad's actual serial number. The serial numbers of the officers in the sample report match the pattern of the apparent serial number on the dog tag: a zero (or possibly the letter "O" for officer) and a hyphen followed by a string of six additional digits. Even if the serial number for "Leslie, William S." in the reports and the apparent serial number on the dog tag don't match, I think I'll be one step closer to finding out about this hidden period in my Dad's life.