Saying goodbye to Midge

Midge's three children gathered with family to celebrate her life.

Midge’s three children gathered with family to celebrate her life.

It was a brilliant fall day in Palo Alto, the type of fall day you see in California and not too many other places. Sun shining, birds chirping, slight breeze.

Fourteen of us gathered for a private service at the cemetery to pay our respects and say a final goodbye to my grandmother, Marjorie Winter Johnson. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in years, in some cases decades, and I don’t know when or even if some of us will see each other again.

However, on this day we gathered, listened to some thoughtful words from a minister that were perfect for this occasion, and individually and collectively we remembered Midge. From my great aunt Florence, herself in her 90s but spry and witty as I remember from my youth; to my mother and her two brothers, Midge’s three children; to my daughter Sarah, not yet 20; four generations and untold numbers of memories were represented. Continue reading

Remembering Grandma Midge

Marjorie Elizabeth Winter Johnson, 1917-2014

Marjorie Elizabeth Winter Johnson, 1917-2014

I write this in memory of my grandmother, Marjorie Elizabeth Winter Johnson, who passed away early today at the age of 97. Hers was a life well-lived, full of grace and dignity. She was the only grandparent I ever really knew, and she had a huge influence on me that has continued to this day, and one that lives on in my daughter.

Marjorie, or “Midge” as she was known, was the daughter of a man who worked his way from teenage office boy to Chairman of the Board of Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co., and she knew the value of education, determination, and preparation. Continue reading

The curious case of Paul America

Paul America

An image from Paul America’s screen test, circa 1965.

I’ve done a lot of research on distant cousins up and down my family tree over the years, uncovering some fascinating stories and learning a lot about ancestors dating back centuries. I’ve written about a few of those stories here on this blog (see links at end of this post), and I’m sure there are many more to find. However, it was pretty striking to learn about a much more recent story, involving a much closer connection.

The story of my late cousin Paul Johnson, aka “Paul America,” is straight out of the movies, both figuratively and literally, and involves none other than ‘60s icon Andy Warhol and other characters from the wild decade in which I was born. I had only heard bits and pieces over the years, tales of a wayward teen with matinee-idol looks who spiraled downward in a haze of drug addiction and, ultimately, an untimely death at too young an age. Continue reading

Walking in the footsteps

Balnagarrow

The small dirt road on the left leads to what is still a working farm: Balnagarrow, just outside Kirriemuir, Scotland.

It’s a pretty intense feeling, walking in the very footsteps an ancestor once took. I had never experienced that feeling before, but now that I have I can’t wait for the next opportunity.

I remember very clearly when I first got interested in genealogy. It was one of those very rudimentary family tree assignments in elementary school, where we got a blank mimeographed family tree sheet to fill out and turn in as our assignment. We didn’t do big poster boards with photos and such back then. Things were simple. Purplish-blue, blurry mimeograph paper. Fill-in-the-blanks-type stuff. It was the 1970s. Continue reading

Another Lanning hits the big leagues

Spencer Lanning

Spencer Lanning, Cleveland Browns

As I wrote about last year, three Lannings have played Major League Baseball (the last retired in 1947), and I’ve had a fun time over the years tracking down artifacts and history of those long-lost ballplayers and linking them to my family tree. In fact, not too long ago I finally found a photo of Lester “Red” Lanning from his college days as a baseball star at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, before his short-lived career in the majors. However, there’s never been a Lanning in the NFL (or NBA, or NHL)…until now. Continue reading

A legacy of philanthropy: The Lannings of Hastings, Nebraska

As a lifelong collector and longtime genealogy lover, one of my favorite hobbies since the advent of eBay has been to find trinkets up for auction that might have some relevance to my family history, then actually be able to make a connection.  This hasn’t happened too often (Johnny Lanning’s autograph was one of the first), but when it does it’s well worth the time and whatever the small cost of the item.

Mary Lanning Fountain postcard

The old postcard that started the search…

Years ago I came across an old postcard on eBay of the Mary Lanning Fountain at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, a town I used to hang out in a bit when I was in grad school in nearby Amherst, oblivious to the existence of the fountain at the time. It turns out various generations of this postcard are readily available on the site on an ongoing basis. However, I knew nothing about the origins of the fountain or who Mary Lanning was, so I bought the card and filed it away as one of my “future projects.” Continue reading

Family history: The search continues…

There’s something very addictive about genealogy: the work is never done, but every discovery just whets the appetite for more.  As a lover of history, the thrill of finding a long-lost photo of a relative from generations before, or of uncovering a story about someone on your tree that brings that person to life…those are the things that keep stoking the coals for me. And every time I think I’ve hit a dead end, once and for all, on a particular line…something new pops up, one way or another.

Goosey headstone

This headstone told me that my third great grandfather Robert Goosey’s father was named John, and that Robert had two older brothers.

I was laughing at myself a couple weeks back when I got SO excited over a photo I found on a British website, the Billion Graves Project. It’s a headstone. Yes, I got excited over a headstone. But it was for Robert and Hannah Goosey, a couple (one set of my thrice-great grandparents on my mother’s side) who represented one of those proverbial dead ends for me. I’ve been stuck trying to research that line for a long time now. Finding that headstone not only confirmed information I already had and added a bit of character to the data, it also gave me a new lead. Robert is listed on the headstone as the third son of his father John…so now I know he had two older brothers, and I know his father’s name…clues I can work with.

While I think getting much further on this will require a visit to England (a goal of mine anyway), this discovery just renewed my desire to research every source I can find to try to put some more meat on the bones of this latest discovery.  Continue reading