I Love Cemeteries

I’ve always found old cemeteries fascinating. You never know what you’ll find there. Perhaps I inherited this interest from my mother. Gail Lee Martin spent many hours in graveyards while tracking down ancestors and looking for birth and death dates to add to the family tree.

Pause for a minute to scan the moss-covered stones and trace a finger over the engraved lettering.

longmeadow cemetery

I visited this cemetery in Longmeadow, Massachusetts some years ago.

Who was this person that lies beneath this gravestone? What was his life like and why did he die? Sometimes you find family groupings and can piece together the family’s story. Perhaps the father died in the war, leaving a young widow. Nearby is a stone for their child who died too young. Was it an accident, an epidemic or other misfortune?

child grave ky

A child’s grave in Frankfort, KY.

I’m always intrigued by the long-lived ones, octogenarians and even ones who lived into their nineties. It’s particularly striking when the stone is for someone who lived in the 1700s or the 1800s. In those days, the life span was much shorter, but you find some who were remarkably long-lived.

As a genealogist, I’m usually looking for specific ancestors as I wander through a cemetery. Still, I can’t resist checking out other people’s dead relatives while I’m there.

There’s something timeless and soothing about a sunny day of wending ones way among the marble markers that represent lives of those long gone. Here’s an old graveyard that I discovered in New Hampshire called the Perkins Hill Cemetery. You can read about the interesting graves I found there.

I’ve even stopped by a cemetery on a snowy day. This photo is from Ohio where I lived in the 1970s. The sky was threatening more snow and I couldn’t resist stopping to capture it with my camera. I wish I’d had a better camera back then.

ohio cemetery

A cemetery in winter near Chardon, Ohio.

Do you find graveyards scenic and interesting?


(all photos by Virginia Allain)

Updated 1940s Photo of Gail

Gail Lee Martin loved researching family history and she’s passed that passion on to several of her daughters, including me. She tracked her McGhee line laboriously through letters and visits to courthouses, libraries, and cemeteries in those pre-Internet times. I’ve been retracing her steps, but using online resources, to see what further can be discovered.

In doing so, I joined a Perry County history group on Facebook for Arkansas. While asking about the McGhees there and sharing some photos, I’ve met some distant cousins who shared their ancestors with me. This photo shows Florence McGhee who married William J. Marshall in 1910. Florence McGhee Marshall (2)

My thanks to Dana Mattingly Craft‎ who provided this picture. Information from the back: Florence McGhee Marshall with children: Robert Marshall (in her arms), Willie “Dane” Marshall, Doyle Marshall (retired from the navy around 1950), Kenneth Marshall (killed in service on December 16, 1941 around Honolulu, Hawaii while piloting an airplane off a carrier for the Navy).

This photo had to have been taken prior to or in 1918 as Florence and Dane died at the end of 1918 as did her one-month-old infant.

In looking at this photo of Florence, it reminded me of a 1940s photo of my mother, when she worked at Boeing. Do you see the resemblance?
gail mcghee boeing wichita edited

This sharing of information led to another connection who surprised me by colorizing Gail’s picture. I think Jenny S. Henry did a marvelous job and I greatly appreciate her skill and willingness to share her talent.


color boeing photo by Jenny

Gail’s Immigrant Roots

June was Immigrant Heritage Month! To celebrate America’s diversity and the monumental contributions immigrants make every day, I’m featuring my mother’s immigrant ancestors. I’ll have to go back quite far, as her family lines came to America many generations ago. Gail’s family name was McGhee and her mother’s maiden name was Vining.

Here’s the family tree showing the Vining line. John Vining was her immigrant ancestor for the Vining line, having been born in Wincanton, England in 1636. He died 49 years later in Weymouth in the Colony of Massachussets. Weymouth is just south of Boston.

vining family tree immigrant ancestor

As you can see, there are some gaps in the family tree for the Vining line. I’m working on it.

Of course, along the way, there were many other family lines joining in. Tower, Buckland, Ashcroft, Long, Pease, Stone, Prior, Marsh. About 250 years later, the Vining and the McGhee lines converged when Ruth Vining and Clarence McGhee met and married in Tyro, Kansas in 1918.

Gail Lee was their second child. When she was in her sixties, she plunged into tracing the family history back through the generations. Finding her immigrant ancestors and where they came from was a thrill for her.

mcghee martin family tree

McGhee – Martin family tree

Do you know when your immigrant ancestors arrived in America? Where did they come from? One wonders what motivated them to make such a big move.

Someone Has to be the Family Historian

(Virginia Allain wrote this 4 years ago shortly after her mother’s death)

When the keeper of the family history dies, it puts at risk the accumulated knowledge of many generations. Who will carry on the family stories, preserve the family photographs, and track the important family dates?

Although I’ll get some help from my sisters, it seems that I’m now the designated family historian. I’m honored that they entrusted me with the room full of family history files and genealogy binders and boxes of vintage photos. Our mom, Gail Lee Martin, worked diligently over the years accumulating and sorting all the information.

my writing notebooks

Gail’s shelves above her computer. Her son, Owen, built the shelving for her.

In the years before the Internet, she visited courthouses and cemeteries, wrote lots of letters, squinted over reels of microfilm and painstakingly recorded what she found into notebooks. Thank goodness I’m a librarian and fortunately, a retired one with the time to take it on. Carrying on the family history is right up my alley.

Last year I joined a genealogy club in my community and I’ve been researching with ancestry.com for several years. My mother and I worked on two books that I self-published for her. Three more were underway. I guess you could say that I’ve been in training to assume this role.

As I packed up her papers, I began to realize the days, weeks and years of research that it represented. Thank you, Mom, for all that you did to save the family stories for future generations.


The Martin/McGhee family history stored on shelves and in cupboards in its new home.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, I’ve created a Martin/McGhee family blog called Then and Now. It has 58 family history stories so far that includes the Vining, Joy, Stone, Tower, and Kennedy lines as well.

This blog, Discovering Mom, was started in May 2013 and I have added 240 posts on it.

I hope to self-publish in 2017 a book about Gail Lee Martin’s 1940s years. This will include her last year of high school, the WWII years, and the first five years of marriage.

I’ve created our family tree on Ancestry so others can find the information Mom collected and what I’ve added to it. So far, it contains 4,810 people, 2,482 photos, and 230 stories.

There is still much work to do in preserving the family history and making it accessible to others.

Back to Work on Family History

I need to buckle down and delve into my mother’s genealogy notebooks. The first year after her death, I didn’t have the heart to start working on them. Over the last couple of years, I’ve dipped into them now and then, but haven’t really worked on them.

Now enough time has passed that I’m ready to move forward. My online writing on other topics has reached a plateau. That leaves me free time to transfer information from Mom’s notebooks to my tree on Ancestry.com. She worked on the family history before the proliferation of online genealogy information. Now, it’s time to make her research accessible to others through these websites, through blogs and through self-published books.


A chart in one of Gail Lee Martin’s genealogy notebooks.


Mom collected this information over years of painstaking research that involved visits to courthouses, libraries, and cemeteries. She strained her eyes to read through reels and reels of microfilm ordered from the government. She wrote to distant relatives. She visited ones within driving distance. Then, she carefully documented what she learned.

I have several contacts asking for family records, so that will spur me into researching those requested topics. I also need to contact older relatives for information they may have.

I hope to assemble photos and stories from Mom’s charts and notes into blog posts on our family history site on WordPress. The name of the blog is Then and Now but mostly it is about the past. Drop by now and then to see what I’ve posted recently.

If you have a membership to Ancestry, my profile name on there is vallain159.

Make Rose Hip Extract for Tea or for Jelly Making

This is a very old family recipe, going back to Kansas pioneer days. They picked rose hips from wild roses and made this extract. The extract was then used to make rose hip jelly or to make a tea as well.


Rose hips (photo by Virginia Allain)


Things You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup rose hips
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • stone crock
  1. Pick the rose hips. These are the round bulb that forms where a rose bloomed.
  2. Remove the blossom ends, the stems, and the leaves.
  3. Wash quickly to avoid any loss of quality. If unable to prepare right away, chill them to prevent enzyme action.
  4. Bring the water to a boil in a pot, then add the rose hips.
  5. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes.
  6. Put the rose hips and the liquid into the stone jar. Cover and let it steep for 24 hours.
  7. The next day, strain out the rose hips, then save the juice.

History of the Recipe

This recipe is from Mary Collins Black, (of Black Jack, Kansas) granddaughter of the earliest doctor there, Moses O’Neil. Dr. O’Neil’s wife, Eleanor (called Ellen) O’Neil was a sister to our great-grandmother, Elizabeth Jane (Rosebaugh) Kennedy. Elizabeth was the wife of David Greacen Kennedy, my husband’s great-grandfather.
oneil line mary black
Rose Hips Card
Rose Hips Card – Available from Zazzle

The recipe was first published on the eHow site in 2008 by Gail Lee Martin. Here’s a comment about it from there:

JackLTrades said, on 10/27/2008 – “I made this as a kid on the farm in South Dakota. Also catnip and nettle tea. We had plenty of stuff growing all over. I had forgotten how much I loved making tea on an open campfire.”


Using the Clues in Old Family Photos

(This is an article that Gail Lee Martin wrote for the eHow website back in August 2009. I was able to retrieve it with the Wayback Machine and add some photo examples to it.)

It’s so sad to see a box of vintage family pictures that no one knows who’s who. Unlabeled photos present a challenge, so you need to play detective to figure out the who, what, where and when that goes with the old photo. Here’s how to figure it out.

  1. If you recognize anything in the picture, use that as a starting point. If you recognize the setting (a room or the outside of a house) then you narrow down the possibilities. If that’s great-grandpa’s house, then start mentally reviewing your relatives to see if any look vaguely like these people.

    dated on front 8-16-1912, house with man, woman, 2 boys with bicycles

    Vintage family photo, dated on front 8-16-1912. It features a frame house with a man in overalls, a woman in a floor-length apron, and 2 boys with bicycles. We think it might be from our Joy family line.

  2. Even if you know only one person in the picture, that helps identify the rest. If that’s Aunt Margie, then the fellow with his arm around her might be her first husband that you never met.
  3. Try to establish the time period for the picture by looking at clothing styles and any known children in the photo. Bobbed hair, shorter skirts with a dropped waist, and long stockings indicate the 1920s. If you know that one child is Cousin Bobbie, then guess at his age by his size. If he looks to be about ten or twelve, use his current age minus 10 or 12 to get an approximate date for the photo.

    Reading Kansas_Cora and Gail Martin with Martin Kids 1952

    Gail Martin with her children and her mother-in-law, Cora Joy Martin.

    Once you’ve determined one child in a group photo, it helps you identify the other children. If this is Clyde, then this younger child has to be Howard and the baby must be Charles.

  4. If you have several photos with the same people wearing the same clothes, then review them as a group to figure out the event and who’s who.
  5. If the photo is faded and hard to see the details, scan it into the computer. Use any photo software to enhance the picture or brighten it. In looking at a picture of my mother in her 20s, I thought there were trees in the background. When I brightened the picture on my computer, I realized it was clouds of black smoke, possibly from a prairie fire.

    Ruth and the cow_edited

    Ruth Vining McGhee (Gail Martin’s mother) with the cow. Smoke clouds on the horizon.

  6. Take any labeled photos that you have and compare them with the unknown photos. Look for similar backgrounds, and similar clothing and haircuts. If this is Aunt Bertha, then probably this lady is her again but thirty years later.
  7. Take advantage of older relatives’ memories. Take your unidentified photos to a family reunion or make a personal visit to Great-Aunt Viola with them. In some cases, you can email the photo to a distant relative and ask for their help identifying the person and place.
 A reader commented on the article back in 2009 –  “Oh, I’m so glad I read this! I have all of my family’s old photos, tintypes and all, and I never thought to look for clues on the ones with no names or dates. Thank you very much for such a well-written and informative article!”

Y is for Yesteryear

Times past held special meaning for my mama. It wasn’t just her childhood years that she treasured and saved by writing them down. She also collected memories of the previous generation by writing down the stories told to her by her aunts and uncles.

Collected into her memoir, the stories bring the past alive for the next generation. You can read excerpts like From Melbourne, Arkansas to Tyro, Kansas.

Not content with that, she searched further back for the pioneers in the family tree and turned their lives into words on paper for others to read. Blackjack along the Santa Fe Trail shows what she accomplished with the genealogy information she uncovered.

She passed along to her daughters this love of history, her appreciation for family and an interest in writing. Hopefully we can collect and preserve many more family stories that she didn’t get time to write.

Photo taken by Virginia Allain

Photo taken by Virginia Allain

X is for Xerox

When Mom plunged into genealogy research, she kept the Xerox machine at the public library busy. She worked hard tracking down ancestors and filling out charts with all the dates and names she found.

To share her discoveries with her six children, she created family books for each of us. These decorated notebooks contained copies of the ancestor charts, photocopies of family photographs and other memorabilia.

Family history for the notebooks Mom created.

Family history for the notebooks Mom created.

Here's an example of one of the decorative notebooks Mom created.

Here’s an example of one of the decorative notebooks Mom created.

Another example of the genealogy notebooks Gail Lee Martin made for her children.

Another example of the genealogy notebooks Gail Lee Martin made for her children.