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2 Oct
2018

A Book Tour in Nebraska

Sunrise in Thedford, Nebraska

Sunrise in Thedford, Nebraska (2018)

We are standing at the intersection of US 83 and Nebraska Highway 2 reading the highway sign about the Sand Hills outside Thedford, Nebraska when I see the Dollar General Store across the Highway. Then I remember what the volunteer at the Historical Museum said about the land my great grandparents homesteaded. We found the homestead on an old plat map with Irvin Russell’s name. She said it was at this intersection where the Dollar General Store was built!

This was just one of the highlights of my fabulous 10 days on a book tour in Nebraska…yes Nebraska!  Readers will know that a section of Sarah’s Secret takes place in Nebraska. And others will know that I was born in Nebraska and have many family roots there. I traveled with my spouse who served as my driver and my very able assistant. This trip was a great opportunity to tell my genealogy story Searching for Family Secrets and read from Sarah’s Secret.

The Back Story

In 2011 when I was searching for information about my mysterious paternal grandfather, we visited the Thomas County Historical Museum in Thedford. My great grandparents, Irvin and Lydia Dodd Russell homesteaded there. My grandmother, Ellen Russell married Harvey Depew Scott in Thedford in 1892. One of the museum volunteers, Helen White, was very helpful in my search. When my book came out, I sent her a copy to thank her. She encouraged me to come to Nebraska. This spring she connected me to Terry Licking, President of the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, who seems to know everyone across the state of Nebraska. Through Terry’s connections I was booked across the state into Historical Museums and Libraries to tell the genealogy story of Searching for Family Secrets and to read from Sarah’s Secret.

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

The Experience of Nebraska

I learned even more about Nebraska. The historic Oregon, California and Mormon Trails dug into the Nebraska sod across the state and are memorialized at the Scotts Bluff monument just outside the town of Scottsbluff where I was born. I learned at the Legacy of the Plains in Gering and the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance about the challenges of the early pioneers trying to survive by farming and discovering the Sandhill grasslands were better suited to raising livestock.

We learned about the valuable water from the Ogallala Aquifer a vast underground reservoir which lies under almost all of Nebraska and parts of six other states. The survival of this valuable source of water is threatened, but Nebraska has put protections in place. We heard a story about Ted Turner and Jane Fonda blowing a multi-million dollar ranch sale because Jane preferred bottled water over the fresh water from the Ogallala Aquifer.

We had some great meals, often steak and chops. We found a gourmet restaurant in Scottsbluff that even carried California wines. The Emporium was so wonderful we had dinner there twice. In Broken Bow the restaurant at our hotel, the Arrowhead was excellent and my favorite meal was the walleye pike. We enjoyed fascinating discussions and a good meal at a gathering of neighbors when we visited friends in Lincoln.

Mullen Nebraska sign

Did you know that there is one of the 100 Best Golf Courses in the little town of Mullen? It is one of the most natural golf courses, ranked ninth in the best of the world.

In many of the places we visited, it was clear that those pioneers who settled Nebraska were mostly of white European descent. And because it is very white, we were conscious that it was much easier for us to travel across the state than if we were of color. But we were interested to learn about DeWitty, the largest and longest-lasting African American settlement in rural Nebraska. The settlers many from Canada were lured by the opportunity for free land after the Kincaid Act was passed in 1904 offering homesteaders 640 acres instead of the 160 acres of the first Homestead Act in 1864. The town was settled in 1907 and grew to 82 residents in 1910. The last resident left the area in 1936. The history of DeWitty reports that white and black settlers in the area treated each other as neighbors, helping out in times of need.

Custer County Museum, Nebraska

Custer County Museum exhibit

Genealogy and Book Readings

I met wonderful people some whom have moved into town, others who still ranch and raise cattle. The audiences in my sessions included people interested in genealogy who have intriguing and mysterious stories in their families, too. They asked many questions about the facts I uncovered about my grandfather and the missing information I was not able to find. They were interested in how I turned my family story into fiction. Others liked to read historical fiction and were intrigued by the story I had created. And they left the sessions with a book under their arm!

I took advantage of my visits and conducted more genealogy research, looking for additional information about family members who settled in the Thedford area. I not only found the plat map to identify the family homestead but I also found a copy of my great grandfather’s will from the County Court House. My maternal great grandparents also homesteaded in Nebraska near Broken Bow. Although I had visited before, I spent time looking for more information at the Custer County Historical Museum, too. I followed up on suspected related families and found the will of my great, great grandmother in the Custer County Court House.

Sunflowers, Nebraska

Back Home

I returned to San Francisco appreciating our natural air conditioning; In Nebraska, it was 85 to 95 degrees most days of our trip. Driving west to east and back, I appreciate the rolling hills, the green prairies and the flashy yellow sunflowers. Nebraska isn’t dramatic but it is a very pretty state. I am proud to claim it as my birthplace. I plan to go back to visit again.

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27 Jul
2018

“What About Your Mother’s Family?”

Sod house Bev Scott Author

My grandparents and their sod house in Nebraska (Solomon Butcher photo)

“What about your mother’s family?”

“…Oliver was a man who knew his own mind.  He had two daughters (one was my mother) who were never allowed to attend school. Oliver was sure that they would learn too many things at school that weren’t included in the curriculum. Mrs. Moody was a former school teacher, so Mr. Moody bought the books that were necessary and the girls studied at home. The law stepped in and tried to force the issue. But Oliver was adamant:  he’d go to jail first! So, they let him have his way, and those girls had the highest grades in the county when it came time for eighth grade commencement in Broken Bow. Their father allowed them to go to high school and college thereafter.” (from Clear Creek Echoes)

Custer County, Nebraska

Recently I decided to take up where I had left off several years ago, with learning about my maternal lineage. In 2001 I went to Custer County, Nebraska where my maternal great grandfather, William H. Moody, homesteaded in 1885, to explore the Custer County Museum. I found newspaper articles, quotes from my grandfather and obituaries. I discovered the story quoted above about my grandfather, Oliver H. Moody, shared in the book Clear Creek Echoes which recorded memories of the area between 1878 and 1978. It gave me insight into the man I knew only when I was a child.

My grandmother, Grace, was a school teacher until she was married in 1902. The state of Nebraska frowned on married women teaching school so she left the classroom when she became Mrs. Moody. My grandfather served as the school superintendent until he had to take over the family farm. Among the files I inherited from my mother are teaching certificates from the 1890’s demonstrating Grace’s competence to teach first and second grade and teacher’s contracts dating from 1896 to 1900, some of which are signed by Oliver Moody.

While I was in Custer County, I took a nostalgic drive out to view the land where my great grandfather homesteaded outside Broken Bow, Nebraska and met the current farmers. The one hundred and sixty acres of the homestead seemed like a lot of land to farm with a horse and plow! I researched the deeds for this land at the county courthouse. The “patten” by William H. Moody was filed in November,1885 under President Cleveland. Since my grandfather was the only boy in the family, the land was passed to him. I was very sad when I discovered that my grandparents lost their farm in the Depression after they had mortgaged it and couldn’t meet the payments.

farm, homestead, Bev Scott Author

Farm homesteaded by great-grandfather, viewed from location where farm house once stood.

Solomon Butcher, Prairie Photographer

I discovered at the Custer County Museum that the photo I have of my great-grandparents and their children in front of their sod house, is a Solomon Butcher photo. As a young man, Butcher decided he wasn’t up to the rigors of homesteading. Instead, he began to chronicle the photographic history of pioneer life. He gave one photo to the family and kept one himself. Between 1886 and 1912 he took more than 3000 photos many of them in Custer County. Many of those photos which adorned the walls of homesteading families in Custer County, were donated to the Custer County Museum.  Today the Museum has as one of its missions the preservation of his photos.

Back on the Genealogy Trail

Families are often filled with stories and rumors which may or may not be true. My mother’s family story was that we were descendants of William Brewster of Mayflower fame. But, did it have any basis? With my renewed focus on my maternal ancestry, I not only reviewed my notes from the 2001 trip to Nebraska, but I also rummaged through files that my mother had left me. I discovered a one-page document describing her mother as a descendant of William Brewster! However, there was no documentation. The piece of paper was just as good as the family story.

Many people have heard or read the story of my journey to find information about my mysterious paternal grandfather who was born in 1840. I combed cemeteries, libraries, county courthouses, historical museums and the US Census.  I searched online, on genealogy sites and requested documents from government agencies.  My quest ultimately took me to seven states in the Midwest.

Bev Scott, Author, Nebraska school

My grandmother Grace was a teacher in a school on the Great Plains in Nebraska.

I learned a lot about my paternal grandfather, John Howard Scott, aka Harvey Depew Scott. I discovered the family rumor about him was true.  However, there were twelve to fourteen years when he disappeared from the records. I was dedicated to the pursuit, convinced I would uncover where he was during those years. With the curiosity and passion for that search, I neglected the exploration I had begun of my mother’s family.

Now, refocused on my mother’s side of the family, I was curious to find the records of my maternal ancestry. I turned to Ancestry.com to see if I could use the names and relationships on the page from my mother’s files to find documentation. I was amazed at how easy it was to find marriage, census, death and historical records which documented the relationships for thirteen generations from William Brewster to me. Although the whole family tree is not yet complete, I am thrilled that I had the luck to easily find the information to establish this branch of my maternal ancestry.

It is such a contrast to the long journey and search for small clues about my paternal grandfather. I had begun that search in the paper files over twenty years ago at the National Archives. Since my grandfather fought in the Civil War I used the only information I had about him, his enlistment information given to me by my aunt. Those paper files gave me many clues, confirmed the family secret and launched me on the journey I described above.   It is now much easier to search for records online. I recently checked online again to see if I missed something in that journey. There is still no information about my grandfather during the times he disappeared.

The Records Reflect Stability and Disruption

What does the difference I describe between my two sets of ancestors suggest? My conclusion is that a stable family life, permanent residence and several generations of the pursuit of learning and education on the maternal side makes it easier to find records and documents. In contrast, losing a father at an early age, moving constantly and the lack of education characterizes my paternal grandfather’s story and leaves fewer records to pursue.

I am excited to be back involved with the genealogy of my mother’s family heritage. Although it is not mysterious, perhaps it will stimulate me to write some of the stories that I have uncovered and find quite fascinating.

Have you traced your family heritage?  What have you learned?

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History vs. Genealogy vs. Historical Fiction

“History and genealogy…are two radically divergent views on the past.  The first says ‘This matters.’ The second says, ‘This matters to me.'”  John Sedgwick in the New York Times

History, Genealogy, Historical Fiction

Historians such as John Sedgwick tend to scoff at genealogists’ efforts to track down their ancestors by pouring over demographic records and old newspapers, using on-line services to trace family connections or spitting into DNA collection tubes. Historians have a “so what?” attitude. Until, as Sedgwick reports, he learned that an ancestor of his, was involved in a historic event for the Cherokee Nation. Then the civil war which erupted over the issue of the Cherokee Nation’s removal to the Oklahoma Territory became not just something that mattered historically but something that mattered to Sedgwick personally.

Writers of historical fiction see an obligation to present their stories in an accurate historical context and frequently do extensive research to learn the accurate details, scenes and key events of the historical time. Having done this extensive research, writers become engaged and committed to the historical context of their story. This sometimes tempts them to provide several pages of historical description and background which fascinates them but which tends to bore the reader. Historical fiction writers, then must continuously ask the question, “Does this background matter to my story?”

Here is an example of a slice of history that mattered in the pioneer West, mattered in the search for information about my grandfather and mattered in the development of my story.

Mattered to Me

As a lover of history, an amateur genealogist and a writer of historical fiction, I find these questions of “what matters” intriguing. In my genealogical research looking for information about my shadowy grandfather, I was searching for potential reasons why he might have abandoned his wife and family and where he might have gone. I hoped that information might give me clues about where I might find him in the public records. What mattered to me was finding places to look in public records in Texas; information about the “overland outfit” he worked for in the Dodge City area and how he might have ended up in Wyoming to marry my grandmother.

Historic scene, hand loom

Mattered to the Story

Unfortunately, I did not find my grandfather in the public records during a period of thirteen years. I could not find information to help me understand his disappearance nor how he got to Wyoming to marry my grandmother. I decided to write the story as fiction. I would need to creatively develop the story of my grandfather’s disappearance. I had a hypothesis that he joined a cattle drive and headed north from Texas based on clues in a deposition in which he said he “worked cattle.” Using that hypothesis, I researched the social and economic events of the longhorn cattle drives from Texas to Dodge City. What mattered to my story then were the perils of the cattle drive and the lawless character of Dodge City . Yet neither of these events had mattered to me in my genealogy research.

Mattered in History

In the history of the West, the cowboys leading cattle drives north and the lawlessness of Dodge City were infamous for a short period of time. They mattered in the history of settling the West, but they were soon diminished by the impact of the settlers claiming free land, often called “nesters,” cattle quarantines and the civilizing influence of families and women. These events historically had a much larger impact in the settlement of the west and really didn’t matter to me in my genealogy pursuit or in writing my historical novel.

Sedgwick says that as a historian he couldn’t take the story past the facts but as a genealogist he could imagine the feelings and physical encounters expressed in the conflict he describes. In my own experience, both the events of history and the documented facts of births, deaths and census rolls of genealogy are fact based. I found the facts are without the emotions of fear, sadness, frustration and joy or the insight from learning the motivation for abandoning a wife and family. Imagining emotions, motivations and creating dialogue makes a story more engaging to the reader looking for opportunities to understand history and identify with characters who made a difference in their time. It has been both a way to learn more history and to identify and understand my ancestors.

Exploring an example from my novel, Sarah’s Secret shows how history, genealogy and historical fiction are intertwined. I needed to use ideas from all three.

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14 Jun
2016

In Honor of My Father

Henry Clay Scott

Henry Clay Scott, 2 years old

I share these memories of my father, Henry Clay Scott, who died almost 50 years ago.  I am also very aware of him and his life since I am writing a novel inspired by the lives of his parents and their children, “Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness.”

A white-out blizzard roared on the prairie plunging the temperature to below zero.  Clay, as he was called, put the last piece of wood in the wood burning stove.  Although he was a young boy, he saw himself as “the man of the house”.  He prepared to bundle up to go to the barn to look for some other fuel to burn.

His mother, crippled from rheumatoid arthritis stopped him.  “I can’t let you go out in this storm.  With the white-out, you could get disoriented, lose your way and freeze to death.   Let’s wait and see if it lets up.”.

But the blizzard didn’t let up and the white-out thickened.  The temperature in their small two-room house dropped without any heat.  The outside temperature plummeted to an estimated thirty below zero and the wind howled and blustered through the cracks.  My father, his sister and mother were bundled in several layers of clothes and wrapped in blankets but it was not enough.

My grandmother came to a difficult decision.  She believed it was the only choice she had to save them all from freezing to death.  They burned her books to stay warm.  This must have been a painful decision for a woman who was a school teacher and highly valued education.

This is just one of the stories I heard about the sacrifice, deprivation and poverty that shadowed my father in his childhood.  Clay was the fourth son of Ellen and Harvey Depew (HD) Scott, born in 1907 in Dewey County, Oklahoma.  H.D. was thirty years older than Ellen and died in 1911 leaving her with five children including an infant girl born just months before.

Before his father died, Clay had rheumatic fever.  He had barely survived and was so weak he couldn’t stand or walk.  His older brothers doted on him and carried him everywhere.  Their fondness for my father was evident to me when I was growing up even though I knew nothing about this childhood experience.

The older brothers left home early to work and begin their own families.  My father and his younger sister worked too, scrimped and saved, and ultimately managed to get college educations.  My grandmother had given to my father her love of learning and belief in the value of education.  I knew when I was as young as four years old, that I too would go to college one day.  A nickel from my fifteen cent allowance was required to go into my college fund.

Henry Clay Scott

Henry Clay Scott, as a young man

My father was a terrific role model always reading and learning.  He saved articles for me to read, taught me the Latin names of plants when I was five and always answered my questions with another question or “What do you think?” He believed in respecting and accepting all people.  He taught me, “You don’t have to like what someone does, but you must respect who they are as a human being.”

Clay was frugal but not stingy.  He and my mother taught me to appreciate and be grateful for my life and to give back as generously as I could.  The poverty and sacrifice of his early life influenced his actions throughout his life.  He didn’t like waste.  He was sure to get the last drop, eat the last crust of bread or chew every shred of chicken off the bones.  He was friendly and humble with a delightful sense of humor.  He was very handsome with black wavy hair.  When he was courting my blond, blue-eyed mother, her friends called him the “dark prince.”

After I graduated from high school, he suffered from heart disease.  He sold his business and went back to school to get a Master’s degree to teach.  He died in 1967 at the young age of sixty. He was teaching college students to appreciate the amazing wonders of the natural world just as he did for me as a little girl.

His love and guidance will always be with me.  And, I miss him.   Happy Father’s Day!

What are your memories of your father? 

 

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My Grandfather, a Cowboy?

Harvey D Scott photoMy paternal grandfather was an absent figure when I was growing up.  He wasn’t just absent; he didn’t exist.  My father didn’t know anything about him; my grandmother just dismissed any questions by changing the subject.  So, I assumed he didn’t exist.

During a trip to Washington DC, I visited the National Archives and uncovered the family secret that had humiliated my grandmother and been hidden from the rest of our family. I have written in previous blogs about the resulting genealogical journey to document H. D. Scott’s life. Unable to find all the details of the story, especially what happened to him between the time he abandoned his first family and married my grandmother, I decided to fictionalize the story.

Creating Sam

I have created the fictional character, Sam, in my story based on two clues about H.D.’s life between 1878 and 1891.  He “worked cattle” with an “outfit from Dodge City, Kansas”.  Sam escapes the Texas Rangers by becoming a cowboy and joining a cattle drive going north to Dodge City.   The years 1878-1879 are the peak of the cattle drives in the midst of the cowboy era.

Developing Sam’s character in some ways was easier because I had no preconception of my grandfather.  I knew he was thirty years older than my grandmother, but I didn’t find out if he was tough, distant and cold or warm, affectionate and funny. But, as a child, I knew my grandmother. What man would she have married?  I wrestled with the contradictions of my image of the man she would marry and the facts I had uncovered. My image of a man who abandoned his pregnant wife and five children didn’t seem like the kind of person she would choose to marry.

Cowboys

Given the era, the location and the clues, I had uncovered, I began to explore and learn about cowboys as a possible Cowboy Silhouettemodel for my grandfather. Today, we identify the cowboy with the West and the time of the cattle drives. However, history tells us that men worked cattle in Massachusetts, Florida, Alabama, Georgia.  But it was the men, one-fourth of whom were black, driving the longhorn cattle from Texas north, who became the folklore heroes we think of as cowboys. They spent long dusty days driving thousands of cattle across empty plains for hundred’s of miles. It was a dangerous life. They faced animals who were easily startled into a stampede, drought, lightning and thunderstorms, rattlesnakes, Indians, and outlaws. They ate grub from the cook wagon, slept on the ground and lived a lonely, spare existence.

Cowboys as folk heroes can be handsome, mysterious, courageous and charismatic. In fact, we have hundreds of stories in novels, movies, radio, and television that have charmed and fascinated us.  Consider Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger or Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon among many other cowboy personalities. The lore and lure of the Western way of life draw many “dudes” today to wear Western wear, reserve weeks at guest ranches in Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana and attend rodeo’s, and Wild West shows displaying the skill and fearlessness of the cowboy.

As a person who I grew up in Montana with a family who live today’s Western way of life in Wyoming and Colorado, it was easy for me to imagine my character, Sam as a cowboy…Handsome, charming, independent, mysterious and attractive to my grandmother.

I have been engaged and challenged as I created Sam’s character. I am excited to be nearing the end with the hope of publishing the story this year.

Do you have cowboy heroes or favorite books or programs? What is your image of a cowboy?

Does Western lore bore you or lure you?

 

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22 Mar
2016

Finding Family Secrets

March 12 was Genealogy Day begun by Christ Church in Ireland in Ireland in 2013.  In celebration of the day, I offer a brief story of the sources I used in my own roots journey.  Not all genealogy sources are on-line.  Going on location, seeing actual gravesites and including others in your search such as museum and library staff or members of historical societies, can also lead to special assistance, new leads and the encouragement from those who love history and genealogy.  I hope that this story might inspire you to begin a search or look at alternative sources to help you put the pieces of your family puzzle together. 

Finding Family - 2

In the early years of my adult life balancing my roles as mother, spouse and professional, I didn’t have time to think about my ancestors or my family heritage.  I was too busy coping with carpool, making dinner or meeting the demands of my boss.  However, as I attended family gatherings and funerals when my parents or their siblings died, I began to hear interesting family myths and stories that intrigued me.   Others around me began pursuing their own family roots.  One of my aunts encouraged me to find information about her father, my grandfather, Harvey Depew Scott.  And my genealogical journey began.

Finding Family - 3It began at the National Archives in Washington, DC where I found thick files of correspondence, government forms and personal letters about my grandfather.  The National Archives is a treasure trove of fascinating information about veterans who have served in our armed forces as well as immigrants who arrived at the US borders from countries around the world seeking a better life. It is an excellent place to begin your own genealogy search.   I knew the surprising fact that my grandfather fought in the Civil War and my aunt had given me the data about his enlistment in the Union Army under a different name, John Howard Scott.  This enabled me to request the files and to be able to read through each valuable piece of information.

What I learned from those files, confirmed the whispered family secrets about John Howard Scott who changed his name to Harvey Depew Scott.  I learned where and when he was born, lived and died.  I now had enough information to search for more information about him and his ancestry.    Over the next several years, I traveled to many states in search of answers to my questions about his family of origin.  In Indiana where he was born, I visited the county courthouse and the local public library.  I learned about his father’s death when he was four and that his mother died in a poor house.  I found remote rural cemeteries where his uncle was buried; in the library, I discovered his uncle was a riverboat captain on the Mississippi River.  But I found nothing about how or when John Howard’s parents came to Indiana, nor could I find any information about his grandparents.

Now I was hooked.  Doing the research in family history is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  As I found one piece of data, it would suggest other connections and often raise more questions.  I was on the search to find more pieces toFinding Family - 4 fit into the puzzle.  I combed through the US Census Data, traveled to other states where John Howard and later Harvey Depew lived.  I visited historical museums and requested help from local historical societies.  I even made copies of the whole file at the National Archives so I could review every detail.

I joined Ancestry.com to see if anyone else might be researching the same family, hoping to find new information.  There were some other potential connections to John Howard Scott’s family but without documentation.  I have learned to beware of the validity of postings of family relationships based on family stories but without documentation.  So alas, I was not able to find documentation, confirmation or information to answer my questions.

My genealogical journey has been fascinating.  I wrote a detailed series of blogs about what I found called “Journey to Fiction”.  As that title suggests, I decided that I could best write the story as fiction, with the opportunity to be creative with the missing information.  I hope to publish the book, “Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Family Story” later this year. Have you searched for family history in your family?  What have you found?  What has been your experience doing genealogy?

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Who Are Your Family Role Models and Inspiration?

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I honor my grandmothers and my aunts who have inspired me  and served as significant role models.

Schoolhouse, Old West, Plains

 

Years ago, one of my favorite aunts came for a visit when I was in my mid-thirties experiencing a low point in my life. She gave a life-long gift by reminding me of the role models I had in the strong women in my family. It was from them, I could always find inspiration and direction.

Both of my grandmothers had been school teachers. My paternal grandmother, Ellen, also became a school superintendent. Ellen was a great cheerleader and encouraged me to succeed in school, get good grades and go to college. My maternal grandmother, Grace, was disappointed that she had to give up teaching school to become a farmer’s wife. But she continued to read the Atlantic Monthly and other books and periodicals. She wrote letters about what she read and shared her opinions about the news and politics in letters to her daughters.

My aunt pointed out that both Ellen and Grace had significant challenges in their lives: Grace, reluctantly left school teaching which she loved to manage her husband’s family farm which she resented. She worked hard to survive the depression and the dust bowl. Ellen was left a widow when her youngest of five children was a few months old.

Ellen Scott, grandmother,

Ellen Scott, my grandmother, a teacher, and a strong role model.

Ellen, in particular has been an inspiration to me. I am currently writing a fictionalized story of her life. As a widow without a means of support, Ellen applied for widows benefits. The Government Agent who came in April of 1912 to interview her in person, filed a sensitive descriptive report (which I recovered from the National Archives). She was living in a tent south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed a land claim. He reports that

“she hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

This was the occasion when she learned that her husband had a former wife and family. The agent describes,

“until I informed her of the fact, claimant declares she had no knowledge of the existence of a former wife. Her grief and tears were convincing of the truth. She begged me not to tell anyone in her home neighborhood.”

This helps explain why no one in the family knew about a prior family. Ellen shared no information about him with her children. Despite her crippling rheumatoid arthritis, she pulled herself together; returned to teaching school; became a school superintendent; and raised her family. See my blog series, “A Journey to Fiction” on my genealogical journey to learn about my paternal grandparents.

Both Grace and Ellen were also models of strength, resilience and accomplishment for their daughters. All five of my aunts completed college educations at a time when the lack of financial resources and societies’ cultural norms were major deterrents. Yet, they were persistent and resourceful. They found work to pay their way. Between the first wave of feminism and the second, during my young adulthood, all these women had successful careers and raised a family. They worked hard and overcame many obstacles. To me they were pillars of strength and fortitude. They were role models of how to meet challenges and find a satisfying life.

These seven women have been my inspiration and my role models. I honor and pay tribute to them on International Women’s Day.

Who are the women role models in your family? How have they influenced and inspired you? Are there other strong women who have served as role models and inspired you?

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14 Aug
2015

Journey to Fiction – Part 7

This is the seventh and last in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.
Please see the earlier blogs describing the journey to this point at bevscott.com/blog/.

New Mexico, Dugouts and the Decision to write a novel.

Dugout 2My grandfather, H.D. Scott died in Hanley, New Mexico January 27, 1911 at the age of 70 leaving my thirty-nine year old grandmother a widow with five children. Although I know that she eventually returned to Nebraska where her parents and several siblings lived, I am curious about her life in New Mexico especially since she was severely crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. I would like to find where my grandparents lived and my grandfather’s grave. I planned a trip to New Mexico.

First stop is the Tucumcari Historical Museum. I learned almost immediately that my grandparents probably lived in a dugout given the time they arrived, 1910.  As my research continued I learned that settlers at that time frequently arrived on the railroad with boxcars divided into one area for livestock and another for farm equipment and household belongings.  Some also had a raised platform on one end for the family to eat and sleep during their journey.  The Homestead Act had opened land to settlers for free as long as they lived on their land.  The initial dwellings were frequently dugouts because they were cheap to build and didn’t require lumber and other building materials.  Settlers were lured by the railroad who advertised the “choice farming” and clean air.  But nothing was said about the low rainfall and the difficulty of finding water.  Guessing that H. D. was attracted by the promises of a climate good for asthma and tuberculosis, I looked for land records of a homestead claim with no results.  Because H.D. died a little over a year after they arrived and Ellen left for Nebraska they did not fulfill the requirement to live on the land for five years.  I was out of luck in finding where they lived.

Grave marker

However, the museum staff helped me locate my grandfather’s grave which is now on private property.  It is a white marker provided by the Veterans Administration with his birth name of John Howard Scott.  Thirty years ago two of H.D.’s sons, my uncles, visiting his grave site discovered that the grave marker was broken and falling apart.  Their request for a new grave marker from the Veterans Administration began the family search to learn more about H.D.’s life which I later took over and have chronicled in this blog series.

Although I could not find much information about where H.D. and Ellen lived, I was still intrigued by how Ellen, severely crippled, managed to get her five children back to Nebraska.  Reviewing the National Archives documents, I found correspondence between the Pension Bureau and my grandmother.  She submitted an application for widow’s benefits almost immediately after H.D. died.  Then in the summer of 1911 she wrote that she would be going back to Nebraska and would send them her new address by September. One Government Agent’s report tells that they “drove all the way from New Mexico, where the soldier died, to her old home in Nebraska.”  From our perspective today, it sounds like they “drove” a car.  But I am sure they could not afford to have a car at that time so I assume they drove a horse and wagon which matches the family story that her older sons drove the wagon and she laid in the back as they made their way back to Nebraska.

I also learned from the Archives documents that the Government Agent who came in April of 1912 to interview my grandmother in person, filed a sensitive descriptive report of that meeting.  She was living in a tent south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed a land claim.  He reports that

“she hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

Dismal River

Not only were Ellen’s circumstances dire and “pitiable in the extreme,” but they were a mile from the nearest water from a river aptly named, the Dismal River.  It also appears that this was the occasion when she learned about H.D.’s first wife.  The agent describes that

“until I informed her of the fact, claimant declares she had no knowledge of the existence of a former wife.  Her grief and tears where convincing of the truth.  She begged me not to tell anyone in her home neighborhood.”

The report, that she begs the Government Agent not to tell anyone, helps explain why no one in the family knew about H.D.’s first family, why my grandmother shared no information about him with her children and why she avoided answering any questions about him.  I had exhausted my sources about H.D. and Ellen Scott.

This journey of the genealogical research uncovered a fascinating story that deserved to be told.  But, there were several missing pieces.  Although I had much to learn about writing fiction, historical fiction, I decided to write this story using what I had learned as the foundation for the story and creatively filling in the missing pieces.

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17 Jun
2015

Journey to Fiction – Part 6

This is the sixth in a serial documentation of the genealogical journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents. Please see the earlier blogs describing the journey to this point at bevscott.com/blog/

Dear Readers to “A Journey to Fiction”,
I am back to writing again after five months. As some of you know, my family has suffered sadness and loss this year. I have wanted to be available, to be of support, to grieve and to find the path for the new ways of living our lives. Hence, the hiatus in my blog and my writing. I hope you enjoy the next installment below of “A Journey to Fiction”.

midwestregion_map

My grandparents, H.D. and Ellen Scott moved to Oklahoma in 1898 with three of their children. My father, the fourth son was born in Oklahoma in 1907. I described in Part 5 of this “Journey” my speculation about why they moved and what I was able to find in official documents about their lives. The correspondence I found in the National Archives reveal the deteriorating health of my grandfather as he is desperately trying to comply with requirements to receive Veteran’s Benefits from his service in the Civil War. From the documents, I learned that his doctor had urged him to move to a warmer climate than Oklahoma.

He spent the winter in Phoenix in 1909 living in a tent according to the Examiner who wrote, in April, 1909, “In view of his poverty and physical condition and the fact that he has a family of young children and that it is his desire to remove his family to some place in the Rocky Mountain region, a matter of large expense, I recommend that the claim be made special, especially since the examination may take considerable time. He is old and his condition is precarious.” He was 69.

The 1910 US Census lists the family residing in Quay County, New Mexico in the community of Hanley outside of Tucumcari. They must have moved after H.D. returned from Phoenix in 1909. But why? The only clue is his deteriorating health and the recommendation from the doctor that he move to a warmer climate. But why Quay County, New Mexico? I learned from additional research that the area around Tucumcari had been publicized as choice farming land. My grandparents and many others were probably tantalized by the railroad advertisements offering free land and clean air good for those ailing from tuberculosis and asthma. I suspect that H.D. suffered from asthma. With the hope of finding a farming paradise, a warmer climate and improved health, my grandparents moved to New Mexico. In August of 1910, a fifth child was born…a girl.

Tucumcari-Mountain

In April, 1909 the Examiner had reported that there were discrepancies in H.D. (alias John Howard) Scott’s statements. In reviewing the Archive documents, the deposition given by my grandfather reveals what those discrepancies were. He was shown evidence, in September of 1909 that the soldier John H. Scott was not known by any other name during his service, that he married Harriet Foncannon and that he lived with her for many years. Yet, H.D. claimed he had never married her. When asked which statement was true, he replied “I will not answer. I will not discuss the matter.”

Although my grandfather now going by Harvey Depew Scott denied his first marriage, the Examiner must have been convinced that he was really John Howard Scott who served in the Civil War. The Government finally approved the awarding of his pension. In December of 1910, in Hanley, New Mexico, a H.D. received his first pension check. He died one month later in January at age 70.

tucum-nm-1913

What does my thirty-nine year old grandmother do now that she is a widow with five children living in rural New Mexico? I know that my grandmother had severe rheumatoid arthritis from an early age. So she was not only a widow but probably disabled. I know she ultimately moved back to Nebraska but I wonder how she gets there and when she leaves Hanley. I want to know more about life in New Mexico and to find my grandfather’s grave. I planned another road trip to New Mexico.

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18 Nov
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 5

This is the fifth in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

Move to Oklahoma; Claiming Veterans Benefits

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My grandparents, H.D. and Ellen Scott were married in Thedford, Nebraska in 1892, purchased land from the Russell’s, Ellen’s family, and had three of their five children. I continued to review the documents I copied from the National Archives and discovered that H.D. filed for Veterans Benefits due to disability in 1897. According to the documents they moved to Dewey County, Oklahoma in 1898. Thomas County, Nebraska land records show they sold their Nebraska farm land back to the Russell’s in the same year. The family is listed in Oklahoma in the 1900 Federal Census.

By 1909, H.D. was living in a “canvas home (a tent with board siding) and ‘baching’” in Arizona, according to the documents filed by Pension Bureau Examiner. “He is evidently in very straightened circumstances…as a great sufferer from asthma.” He reportedly went to Arizona “two or three times to get relief from his affliction.” But, he left his wife and four children in Oklahoma.

Why Oklahoma? Was H.D.’s health already deteriorating in 1898? Alas there are no clues in the Archive documents.

Oklahoma was one of the last territories to be open for homesteading. Dewey County was Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian land. In 1892 it was opened for settlement. A search of homestead records however, does not show H.D. or Ellen filing a land claim in Dewey County between 1898 and 1910. During my road trip to Oklahoma, unfortunately, I did not get to the Dewey County Court House to review land records before they closed. But H.D. Scott and wife must have purchased land there, because later I discovered records in Thomas County, Nebraska that Ellen’s father and brother bought land in Dewey County, Oklahoma from Ellen and H.D. in 1901. Perhaps it is they who were investing in land in Oklahoma and H.D and Ellen purchased it and then resold it to them. I know from family lore that H.D. raised horses. Perhaps although his in-laws owned the land, H.D. raised his horses and settled his family there. Or more likely H.D. and Ellen needed the money.

Clay Scott - Oklahoma I

As I mentioned, the family is listed in Oklahoma in the 1900 Federal Census. My father was born in Oklahoma in 1907. Recording of births did not begin in Oklahoma until October of 1908. I have a notarized statement from the woman who attended my grandmother when my father was born documenting the date and location. I also have a picture of the house in which he was born taken many years later in the 1950’s. When I visited Dewey County in search of his birthplace recently, the small town they lived near, no longer exists.

During the time the family lived in Oklahoma, my grandfather was trying to obtain his Veterans Benefits. The documents in the National Archives include correspondence regarding his deteriorating health. In April,1909 as mentioned above, he was living in a tent in Scottsdale, Arizona, a community of sick people, and according to the Examiner, was “favorably known considering the short time he has been there” (since November, 1908). By this time, he had filed three claims for Veterans benefits. My grandmother wrote to the Examiner when she sent her only pictures of him, “I do hope he will get his pension before it is too late.”

The Pension Examiner wrote in April, 1909, “In view of his poverty and physical condition and the fact that he has a family of young children and that it is his desire to remove his family to some place in the Rocky Mountain region, a matter of large expense, I recommend that the claim be made special, especially since the examination may take considerable time. He is old and his condition is precarious.”

However, due to “discrepancies in the soldier’s statements,” the Pension Bureau ruled that more investigation was required. I wanted to know how they investigated the discrepancies and if my grandfather received his pension before he died in January, 1911.

Have you done any genealogical research? What is your experience?

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