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!