Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It's not good enough!

I had a really helpful and cheerful person in the Oakland, California, area work with me over the past couple weeks to figure out if the Mary Davis Nickerson in his cemetery was mine or not. There was already a photo of her headstone on So he very helpfully (cough) took a high-res photo of it, after he (with my help) found it. I guess he thought that's what I wanted, despite what I told him.

I thanked him and told him I appreciated his trouble and his work, but mentioned that I needed some information about that woman, so I'd know it was my relative.

His comment was: What are the odds that there would be another Mary Davis Nickerson in this county? And my thought was: Do you know how common those names are? Mary? Davis? and Nickerson? Really. California had five million people in it in 1927, when (we think) she died.

He really *was* as helpful as he could be, but just matching a name is not good enough.

I come from a family with a common name, too, and it's not good enough. I could tell that boy stories to curl his hair about names repeating down the generations until your eyes cross and you stutter just talking about them all.

Also, no researcher worth her salt would accept "Oh it must be her" as good enough. For pity's sake.

So I'm still on the trail of Mary.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bits and bobs of hunting the fam

I am currently on the track, I hope, of a great-great-aunt's final resting place. She is the only one in her family to leave our home state, and the only one to not be buried here.

Unfortunately, she has a very common name, Mary Nickerson, and about six of them died in California in her same time frame. But I'm tracking down the matter of IF the one I'm chasing is actually my relative, by pestering (oh very politely) the funeral homes and the cemeteries involved. By the way, the Nickersons seem ALL to be from Massachusetts.

In other news, I've found that the website Findagrave dot com has been helpful, but has missing information in this case. I had no idea anyone was ever buried without a birth date OR a death date! Why?

Once I realized that Findagrave is a wiki, I began connecting family "dots" to one another. That's rather fun. I added a life story in one case, to an uncle, and an obit, in another case.

Some kind person responded to a request for a photo for another relative, upon the posting of the photo of the tombsone, I also found out that this person has a less-than-accurate birth date on the tombstone.  As a newbie, I can only assume that wrong dates are much more common than I had imagined.

When a death occurs, questions are asked and answered, and sometimes the information is just in error.

AND I found Nun's name in a diagram of the family cemetery. Haven't found out yet if he's really there, but why else would his name be on that map? Questions, questions!

Friday, October 16, 2015

It's at my feet. Right here at my feet.

It's weird, but in a way, "Discovering the world at my feet" is metaphorically rather fitting for genealogy. All this stuff has been here a long time: censuses, newspaper articles, obituaries from 1899, 1917, 1956, etc. It's all been here, waiting for me to wake up and pay attention.

A book I am reading has been published before I was born. So what was *I* waiting for, huh?

So 1899.  This is the year my great-grandfather, Dave Davis died. He's the earliest Davis I currently know anything about:

He and his wife, Elizabeth Thomas married in '54 I think. In the 1850 and 1860s, he had worked the coal fields in South Wales, and god knows what happened to his lungs there. They saved enough and borrowed enough to purchase a butcher shop. His wife baked bread to sell there; his daughter clerked there. Eight or nine other children went to school and raised each other.

Bear with me while I recount this from memory, which is full of errors. There was an agent who worked with the Union Pacific Railroad in Nebraska. UP owned most of the land around every rail line, because the government let them and because there was big money in it. BIG money. One way or another, this agent was able to secure land just for Welsh settlers, of which Dave was one. When they decided to leave, one of Dave's friends said "Davey, don't go, there's nothing but the dregs of hell an the rakings of Newgate (criminals) there!" Dave and his wife, Elizabeth, and nine children, came to the US via rail, steamship and more rail ... and probably wagon the last twenty miles. That was September 1873. They left two deceased children behind in Wales.

So Dave, Elizabeth and the family were all pioneers in the Welsh settlement of Postville, Nebraska.

Dave plowed for months to ready the soil for a crop, and wrote back to Wales in June of 1874, telling folks of how good his family had it, about the fabulous soil, about the church already established, about how he didn't contend in the fields with stone and trees, like the folks did back in Wales, and where they paid *rent* rather than owning. He said he couldn't imagine why they wouldn't come to what he considered Canaan (the Biblical promised land) to farm, and where land could be had "so cheaply."

They attended Baptist church; the Welsh are known to be religious and political. Dave was articulate, as well. From their life stories, it becomes obvious his children were well-read and articulate, as well.

Well, that part came on down the line, eh?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Moth magnet!

The place where I work is a moth magnet. Every late summer and fall, there are various moths that rest on the front porch or near it.

This morning, this very large moth, OMG, 6 inches across, was sitting on the ground, vibrating. Not sure what that's about!

Anyway just look. Oooooooh!

This guy with the big eye-spots (that's what they call them; I didn't make it up.) (I'll let you know when I make stuff up!) is called a Polyphemous moth, a kind of silk moth.

The lime green Luna moth is in the same family; they are both Saturniidae.

This is the caterpillar, an image from the Internet. The cats are big eaters! Seriously, they have to turn into that BIG MOTH!

The caterpillar can eat 86,000 times its weight at emergence in a little less than two months. But the result is amazing, right?

They eat birch, willow, oak, maple, hickory, beech, honey locust, walnut, elm and other tree leaves, so they are going to be found near heavily wooded areas. We have lots of woods near here. The caterpillars are inconspicuous at first, but at the fourth and fifth molts, then they get this bright green color. After coccooning up and becoming a moth, its eating days are mainly over.

Adults of this family of moths have only partial mouths, and they do not eat and only live as adults for less than one week. Sex is the name of the game, baybee. Find mates, have sex, lay eggs!

This particular moth was resting but also vibrating. As it turns out, these silk moths are so large that they must warm their flight muscles for a minute or two before they can fly. They do this by shivering, and after a few moments, they fly off.

Next picture:

I know you can't see this Lined Sphinx Moth very well, but he's striking at rest. In flight he's even more so! Fat-bodied, rosy hindwings, and hovers like a dragonfly at his flowers of choice. He floats around similar to a hummingbird, just quieter.

I told you it was mothy up here!

Painted lady, the butterfly, not the Victorian house

So, apparently, the Painted Ladies like the coneflowers, too, like the sulphurs do.

The genus name for these little beauties is "Vanessa." They are only 2-3 1/2 inches, but they are quite eye-catching.

They always have the upper corners of their wings in black-and-white, then the rest in orange and black/brown and a tan-colored fuzzy body.

I don't know the terms for all their body parts, but your local butterfly and moth nerd will know. Or any identification guide. There are great books at your library!

This butterfly is also very widespread, but unlike the clouded sulphur, it is international. It's found everywhere except Antarctica and South America.

It migrates, too, like the monarch. It migrates from North Africa and the Mediterranean to Britain in May and June, but they aren't seen on the return trip from Britain to North Africa, because they fly so high. For many years it was a mystery as to when and how they got back south, but it was due to their flying altitude.

There are some Painted Ladies which migrate in California, from one region to another, but their migrations are more erratic, depending on weather (El Nino!) and what is growing at a given time, which varies.

Another reason PLs have such good populations is because they feed from a large array of flowers; over 300 species are known to be dinner for them. They get the biggest smorgasbord!

A party of clouded sulphurs

Clouded sulphur butterflies are found all over the North American continent except for Mexico, northern parts of eastern Canada and the Gulf and Pacific coasts. It is widespread and common and even ranges north to the Arctic Ocean in Yukon.

These folk were avid for the cup plant flowers, the yellow ones. There were times that four of them were on a flower head, but I only got shots of three at a time.

They nectar on several milkweeds, butterfly bush, several coneflowers (as you can see), alfalfa, dandelion, clover species and a verbena. They lay their eggs on ground plum, a couple of vetches, soy beans, alfalfa, clovers, and black locust. There are three to five hatchings of them per year, depending on conditions and location. Three in the Arctic, and five in the southern reaches of its range ... So I'm thinking no wonder we always see these innocuous beauties!

Clearly they like other species to nectar upon, since the one they grouped up on is a Silphium perfoliatum, which was not mentioned as a nectar flower.

A photo I haven't gotten yet is the fluttering, apparently twinkling, clouds of them above the red clover on the spur road. But it is a shoulderless two-lane, and I'm less inclined to stop and shoot photos than I might otherwise be. But it's a sight to see.

Another place it's easily seen is at puddles, mud or wet soil, as the sulphur is an avid mudpuddler. These shots were in my driveway, many hours after a rain. Clearly there was moisture there. They can also be seen in clover fields or along roadsides. The growth of forage-crop production for livestock across North America has greatly expanded the range and numbers of this butterfly.

This is the dorsal view. Most of my photos are of the folded/ventral view.

Male clouded sulphur

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mullein is packed head to toe with goodness

This taller plant is a lead plant, somewhat past blooming, and a the shorter one in the foreground is a mullein plant that has escaped mowing in our front yard.

The reason I did it is to give you a good idea how small a first-year mullein plant can be, and how easy to miss.

The lead plant is only hip-tall, and the grass is unnecessarily tall. But besides the obvious benefits of not mowing, I also often get to find plants that I normally mow. This mullein got mowed five or six times before I neglected the yard enough to see it.

So what?

This is what. Most of the time, mullein's flowers and leaves are what's used herbally, but you can use the first-year plant if you have extra plants around and you need a little help with your back staying in place. You have to give the plant up completely because you need the root.

Mullein root tincture is some amazing stuff. Search for Jim McDonald's post about it. Seriously, it's worth it.

The point? This is the size to look for when you're looking for YOUR mullein plant to tincture.

Don't you feel better now?