This Old House – An Open Door to the Past

I have an advantage over some of my new-found genealogy friends, I live in the same area as the family I am researching. I can stroll down their sidewalks, visit their houses and lay flowers on their graves. This past weekend, I did all three.

My last two posts have focused on John Paul Jones’s early life in Massachusetts and New York. There are many more treasures I’ve found from these years and I look forward to sharing them with you, but today I am going to shift forward in time and focus on his life in Nashville.

Between 1930 and 1935, JPJ moved from Union Springs, New York (pop. 794) to Music City, USA. Nashville was booming in the 1930’s, with a reported population of 153,866 at the beginning of the decade. I wonder if 20 year old John was as overwhelmed as I was when, at the age of 13, I moved from a very small village in Norfolk, England to the substantial Southern metropolis of Raleigh, N.C. When my family emerged from the chilly cocoon of RDU’s baggage claim, struggling with two uncooperative wheely-suitcases a piece, the humidity hit us like a sopping wet dishcloth to the face. When JPJ stepped off the train at Union Station in downtown Nashville, was he also rocked back on his heels by the sticky heat?

An artifact from his suitcase provided my first piece of evidence of the move. Tucked inside an envelope postmarked 1938, is a letter to JPJ from his mother. The return address is Decatur, GA, so he wasn’t the sole member of the Jones family to leave New York state after 1930.

Letter-1

In February of 1938, JPJ lived in an area of north Nashville called Buena Vista Heights.  Almost a year to the day the above letter was mailed, he married Juanita Pipkin on February 23rd, 1939.

Marriage License

The marriage was officiated by John’s father, John Kelty Jones.

marriage license 2

Since I had a letter addressed to John at 2112 23rd Ave N in 1938, I was surprised to find a record in the 1940 Census, listing his residence as just a block away at 2115 24th Ave N. The column that lists a person’s 1935 residence is marked “same house” for JPJ. I suppose it could have been easier to answer the census taker’s question this way, or maybe the head of the household, 73 year old Lenora, just got the facts wrong.

1940 census pic

The 1940 census tells us a lot of useful information about John, including his occupation and salary. He held a full time job as a clerk at a publishing company, drawing an annual salary of $800. The average yearly income in the US in 1940 was $1,900. JPJ was barely above the minimum wage mark,  which was $0.30/hr. The job at the publishing house brought in a little over $15 a week for the newly-weds. Even when gas was only $0.18 a gallon, bread could be bought for $0.08 and a gallon of milk would run you $0.34, his salary would still be considered a very low wage.

Reading past the facts and figures, the discovery that intrigues me the most is his living situation. He is the sole (and dare I say hen-pecked?) male in a house of three generations of women.

Lenora, a 73 year old widow, is listed as the head of household. Although 21 year old Juanita is listed as her daughter on the census, I don’t believe this to be the case. Most likely is that Irene (age 43) is Lenora’s daughter, and Juanita’s mother. John had a full house of in-laws, including June, his sister in law. My heart goes out to him.

His mother-in-law, Irene, is also listed as working in a publishing house, but as a binder earning $500/year. Is this how he and Juanita met?  Did Irene pick him out at work and introduce the young, handsome clerk to her daughter?

JPJ is too cool for school

The pieces came together when I started to trace his family’s activity in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The SDAC has an extensive online archive in which I was able to find Lenora’s obituary, as well as many other records of John and his biological family.

Lenora obit

Lenora’s obituary was published in the April ’53 edition of the SDAC publication Southern Tidings. While her obituary may be short, there’s a rich story hidden between the lines. She was parted from her husband of 56 years the same year that Juanita and John wed. I can’t find an obituary for Thomas, so I don’t know whether he attended his daughter’s wedding, or whether he passed just before. Lenora also lost three children during her 87 years. While I have filed many of these notes away for later exploration, this short text does tell us that it’s likely John worked with his mother-in-law at the Southern Publishing Association, a Seventh Day Adventist organization.

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Fall weather in Nashville is a series of flukes – you could be shivering your way around the neighborhood, hurrying along the dogs in 36 degree weather on one morning and the next day, find yourself basking in the sunshine on your back porch. Last weekend sat between the two extremes, yet had it’s own quirks – bright, warm sunshine that made you strip off your jacket only to struggle back into it again when you stepped into the shade. After two solid days of nastycold rain, the sky had cleared, so I took a ride over to John’s old neighborhood.

Buena Vista Heights is only a 15 minute drive from my house, but it feels like a world away from my snug neighborhood that sits on the edge of Vanderbilt University. Buena Vista Heights is half empty lots, half broken down houses. A couple of houses seem to be fighting for survival, some wilted flowers in a raised bed here, a new paint job there, but the majority of the houses are unfriendly and sagging. There are a series of photographs in the suitcase of a house that’s covered in white siding. One of the photographs in this series has the house number 2112 in the frame.

dog and step - 2112-1

I turned onto 23rd Ave, passing the broken windows at a crawl, and rolled to a stop outside No. 2112. The siding is gone, but the front porch looks the same, although the numbers are posted on the other side.  As I turned the corner, a young dog jumped at the fence, barking and snapping. Just past the dog run, I could see the back porch, pictured below in a photo from the suitcase.

Tire-1

The same crazy paving on the side and the long first step onto the grass.  While I was squinting back and forth between the photograph and the house, the dog had worked itself into a frenzy. I moved on without pausing to take a new photo, and his barks followed me down the block.

I drove a couple of circles around the neighborhood, not sure what to do next. I had naively pictured myself walking up to the front door, perhaps leaving a note if no-one was home. Instead, I had driven away, scared by the dog and the neighborhood. I’ve returned to a couple of my old haunts before, visited houses I uses to live in. My heart always broke a little bit when I saw how things quickly things had changed or decayed. I imagine that John’s heart would have sunk a little had he seen that young pup throwing himself at the chainlink fence and pacing around the small run that was installed in the same yard where his own dog once ran free.

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There was one other house I wanted to visit, the home John lived in with his wife, her sister, his mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law.  Although only a couple of city blocks away, 24th Ave North had bigger lots and green open spaces. Dominating the crossroad of Simpkins St. and 24th was the House of Estrogen: No. 2115.

2115 House-1

I pulled into the large driveway and surveyed the scene. There were a couple of people picking through broken furniture on the front lawn. The front door was open, and there was a contractor’s van parked behind the house. A gentleman wearing paint splattered jeans was talking into his cell phone. I decided to make a move.

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Daryl has been restoring houses for over 20 years. He recently purchased No. 2115 and plans to live there while he restores the house to her former glory. Over an embarrassed shrug, Daryl told me he “fell in love with her”.  We were standing next to the trash heap on the front lawn, and he nudged an empty  beer bottle with his foot, waiting for me to call him crazy.

My house was built in 1898 and there’s not a floor that’s level or a door that doesn’t stick. I love the glass doorknobs, even though they rattle in my hand when I shut the doors. I love her creaks and mysterious groans, her tall ceilings and her dusty corners that even my long handled feather duster can’t reach. I avoid going down to the basement as much as possible, but when I do, I always touch the faded pink rose wallpaper that hides at the back of the shelves above the stairs. She’s an old girl, but she’s got character. We fell in love with her from the street. My Gentleman Caller had lived in the neighborhood for 3 years and we passed her everyday when we walked the dogs. The moment we saw the ‘Coming Soon’ sign in the front yard, we knew we were in trouble. Two years later, she still as charming as ever.

I told Daryl that I have my own old biddy of a house. His eyes sparked and he laughed. “You know what I’m talking about then”.

Looking up at 2115 I said,”I think she’s lovely”. Both of us stood, hands on hips, acknowledging our shared slushiness with slow nods.

I told him about the suitcase and about the young man that used to live here in the 40’s with his family. I asked I could take a picture.

He said, “Sure! Hell, do you wanna take a tour?”

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The inside of the house is in rough shape, but the original hardwoods remain and the sun coming through the tall windows paints the walls and lights up the empty rooms. I can see why he fell in love. Like all old houses, she has a floorpan that keeps going and going, disguising the almost 2000 sq. ft  interior from the street. The first space is the foyer, and from there you can either enter the living room with attached dining room, go left into a downstairs bedroom or up the stairs to the second floor.

2115 House foyer-1

As we walked through the house, Daryl told me his plan for each room, pausing to touch the door frames and run his hand along the walls. He showed me a series of awkward built-in shelves that were lodged into random corners, one of my favorite features of old houses.

2115 House interior-1

As we wound through the house, I felt relieved for JPJ.  At least he wasn’t crammed into a tiny house with 4 other females, they had room to stretch out a bit.

Climbing to the second floor, I wondered how many times had JPJ walked up and down these same stairs. Did he instinctively reach out for the banister post as I did? There were nail holes on the wall that accompanied the stairs up to the second floor. Were family portraits hung along the stairs in the classic manner? Did he pause and look at them, or did they fade into the background as he passed?

2115 House stairs-1

The upper floor had been made into a second apartment, accessible from the backyard from a rickety wooden stair case built in a boxy spiral.  Touching the walls again, Daryl said “I can’t decide whether to rent the top floor out, or keep it to myself”. He fiddled with an old fashioned rope pulley that was laid into the window frame. A look in his eyes told me he had already decided, this lady would be his alone.

After the tour, we walked around the exterior of the house, stepping around the trash and broken bottles. In the back, there are three huge trees, a decayed rope swing was attached to a study branch. Daryl patted the trunk and said “I bet this old tree has some stories to tell”.

I bet, indeed. Don’t we all? Doesn’t everything?

We shook hands by the front door and I wished him luck on his restoration. “I’m glad you found her, treat her well”. Daryl smiled and said, “I’m planning on it. Good luck with your project”.

As I drove back to the main road, I thought about the first house I visited and wondered about my reaction. One house scared me and the other, sitting a couple of blocks away, was charming…that seemed worth pondering. I made a U-turn in a Save-A-Lot parking lot and turned back around.  At 2112, the dog leapt up from a doze and resumed his shouting.

I had looked up the area before I visited, and I was aware of the stats.  Buena Vista Heights is not a safe area, the crime statistics are well above the national average. Upon arrival, it didn’t surprise me that I was intimidated by the neighborhood and didn’t want to spend much time there, yet I had just spent 20 minutes touring one of it’s houses.

I feel close to John and his family, increasingly so since I have been to their house and visited their graves. I’ve started to understand them as living, breathing people, not just grainy faces in candid snap shots. Although they are decidedly alive to me, they are all very much preserved…and that makes me considerably more comfortable. The artifacts in the suitcase were protected; the most delicate of notes written 77 years ago were still intact, like the petals of a pressed flower in a book.  The negatives, while damaged and faded in some cases, kept their scenes intact, waiting for someone to hold them up to the light. Even the house John and his gals lived in 70 years ago remained for me to explore, stripped of all signs of modern life, like a full-sized doll’s house from a time capsule. That’s all very nice and neat and safe, isn’t it?

No. 2112 wasn’t preserved in a scrap book. It was still breathing. It had been re-sided, re-painted and was sheltering another family. A family with their own stories of celebrations, arguments and grief. That’s considerably more messy to think about. I suppose behind all this confused huffing and puffing of mine is a fear of change, and hiding behind that little goblin is the most universal fear: the fear of death. The end of our bodies, yes…but even more jarring to me is the decomposition of our stories.

When I first began researching John Paul Jones, I was concerned that what I was doing was wrong. Specifically, that it was voyeuristic and exploitative. What gave me the right to publish this blog? I’m not related to these people and these aren’t my things. After a couple of weeks of debate, I gave myself permission to press on for one simple reason: The suitcase had ended up in my possession. This meant whoever cleared out Juanita’s house after she died in 2004 either didn’t care enough to keep it, or they didn’t know what they were tossing out. Either way, I believe the act of publishing this man’s story is permissible. If no one objected to discarding his memories 11 years ago, then no one should have a problem with me dusting them off and taping them back together. If the abandonment of the suitcase was a mistake, then I hope my research will eventually lead to a living relative or a friend of the family that would care for these objects as much as I do.

I’ve dug enough to know that John and Juanita didn’t have any children.  There’s hints in the records of a niece and I’m tracking down those leads. Until I reach the end, I’m going to continue telling John’s story, which in time, will become a part of my own.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”

-Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

On the Right Track – One Baby’s 950 Mile Journey Home

How would a family travel 950 miles across the country in 1912?

I recently discovered that my Man from the Suitcase, John Paul Jones, was born in Cedar Springs, Michigan in 1912.  That’s not the interesting part, although I’m fairly sure it was interesting to him.

The bit that’s interesting is that Cedar Springs is 950+ miles away from where his family lived in Lowell, Massachusetts.

map - google

Short of convincing my Michigander friends to go to a Kent County library for me, I have hit a brick wall in finding a birth record for JPJ in Cedar Springs, MI.  To request a birth record from Kent Country, you must be related to the person on the certificate and while it would be an incredible twist of fate to find out JPJ and I are related…I’m not counting on it.

The only record I have that JPJ was born in Cedar Springs, Michigan is, weirdly, a register of births from Lowell, Mass.

JPJ Birth Record

JPJ is one of three names on this record which are listed as being born outside the city of Lowell.  George F. O’Dwyer was born in Boston (30 miles away) and Charles Coburn was born in Salem (33 miles away).

After an indirect ‘lightbulb’ moment c/o my mum and bit of digging (all of which can be found in detail in the previous blog post) I discovered that JPJ’s maternal grandparents lived in Allegan, Michigan. Allegan is only 60 miles away from Cedar Springs.  My hunch is that the Jones family were visiting relatives, and they either planned for John to be born there or he came a wee bit earlier than expected.

There could be many other explanations for being so far away from home, including a fun idea I bandied about involving the Official Red Flannel Festival, but I felt the family connection made the most sense.  I was sad to find out that the Red Flannel Festival didn’t start until 1939, but it’s still going strong which should be enough of a reason to visit Cedar Springs all by itself.

I ask you…could you resist all this fun?  I think not.

The First Red Flannel Festival was held in November of 1939. Featured crowning of a Queen by the local congressman at half time of the high school football game, a parade down Main Street, a lumber jack supper, numerous arrests by the Key Stone Cops of anyone failing to wear something red, and induction of local dignitaries into the Order of the Knights of the Red Flannel Drawers (the password was “itch.”).

-Sue Harrison and Donna Dejong, authors of “The Cedar Springs Story”.

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Which leads us to the main subject of this post: How would a family travel 950+ miles across the country in 1912?  While I don’t have direct evidence that supports the following theories, I’m confident I got the majority of it correct. This isn’t an exact exercise, rather it’s an experiment. I wanted to go back 102 years and put myself in their shoes.

Transportation in America in 1912 consisted of 5 choices: your own two feet, a bicycle, horse and buggy, motorcar and train. I hope you will permit me the assumption that rules out the first 2 options.  If John’s father had suggested Vesta cycle over 900 miles while pregnant, I’m sure I would have found a death record for John Kelty Jones, circa 1912.  As it happens, JKJ died in 1943 and is laid to rest in Lancaster, Mass…not in a shallow grave, fertilizing the Grand Prize winning tomatoes at the Middlesex County Fair.

Horse and buggy transportation, while still a common method around town, wouldn’t cut it for 950 miles.

The state of the roads in 1912 were just “emerging from the dark ages”, according to Richard F. Weingroff, of the Office of Infrastructure at the Federal Highway Administration.

Roads were primarily of local interest. Outside cities, “market roads” were maintained, for better or worse, by counties or townships. The country had approximately 2,199,600 miles of rural roads and only 190,476 miles (8.66 percent of the total) had improved surfaces of gravel, stone, sand-clay, brick, shells, oiled earth, bituminous or, as a U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) bulletin put it, “etc.”

The Lincoln Highway, R. Weingroff

Side note – I have a enormous soft-spot in my heart for people who have passionate interests the majority of the global population would consider dull. As a child, I was a fossil collector, a bird watcher and a philatelist, so I’m pre-disposed to adore people who grok “dweeby” subjects.  In my opinion, a fervent commitment to what is normally considered tedious and mundane is a thing of beauty.  As the “unofficial historian” of the FHWA, Mr. Weingroff is one such person.  During my research for this post, I came across one of his articles titled: The Rambler’s Highway History IQ Test: The Seven Questions That Could Change Your Life – Or Not! Can You Make the Grade?  

This simple test promises to “challenge readers’ Highway History IQ”.  It has seven questions. It’s 27 pages long.  I totally failed it.

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In addition to the fact that in 1912 only 8.7% of roads in the United States were “paved” with little more than packed dirt, ownership of an automobile was reserved for the higher classes.  A 1912 Model-T Ford, the most popular car of the day, was priced at $560.00.  We know from the 1930’s census that the Jones family paid $25 a month in rent for their house in Cayuga Co., New York.  Adjusting only slightly for inflation, the cost of a Model-T would be about 2 years worth of rent for the family.

Even if we assume that the Jones family had the funds to purchase a car, the AACA (Antique Automobile Car Association) reports that the 1912 auto industry produced 356,000 cars.  The population in 1912 was ~95,335,000 people.  That’s 0.37% of the population that owned an automobile.  I don’t like them odds.

That leaves the Jones family one solid choice to travel the ~2000 miles to Cedar Springs, Michigan and back to Lowell Massachusetts:  Riding the rails.

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The rail network in 1912 was extensive and was used by all classes of travelers. The Canadian Pacific Railway, one of the largest rail companies in Canada and the North East, boasted 15.5 million passengers in 1911.  The cost of a railway ticket for several long journeys per year was considerably cheaper than an automobile.

railroad

There were hundreds of independent railroads in operation which allowed travelers to cobble together a journey to almost anywhere, transferring from one operator’s lines to another.  The most efficient choice, especially when you are caring for a two year old and a newborn, would be one of the through car services that ran direct routes between the major urban hubs.

The Grand Trunk Railway, with over 1500 miles of rail under one management, boasted express trains with new Pullman’s “Palace” and sleeping cars.  GTR offered a two through car services from Chicago to Boston, leaving daily.

schedule

The Joneses would have boarded the train at Battle Creek, 176 miles into the journey.

The timetable detail is taken from the most definitive source available for the 1910’s: The Official Guide of the Railways and Steam Navigation Lines of the United States, Porto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Cuba, 42nd Year (January, 1910)

The 1910 Official Guide made my eyes hurt. There are 1,486 pages listing the routes and timetables of every rail company in the country.  In order to pack in a gargantuan amount of information, the publishers had to get creative with the space.

timetable

Thankfully, the New York Public Library has a digitized copy with a handy search feature, so my eyes were spared the entire volume.  I printed the pages I needed and sat down with a magnifying glass to piece together the journey the Jones family most likely would have taken.

map

The main line from Chicago to Boston ran via Toronto and Montreal.  The Joneses would likely board the train at Battle Creek, Michigan and ride in the same cars all the way to Montreal. From Montreal to Lowell, they would switch to two subsidiary lines, the first operated by Central Vermont and the last by the Boston & Maine system, which would take them all the way to Lowell, Mass.

The journey home would take 31 hours and 12 minutes.  With a two year old. And a newborn.

Condensed Chicago to Boston

Of the two trains available, I decided to trace the Montreal Express (No. 14) which would stop at Battle Creek at 8:45pm, as opposed to the Atlantic Express which would have required the Joneses board the train at 3:50am.  I know the exact times for each stop because the 1910 Official Guide took great care to list each stop on the route, the arrival and departure time and the exact milage into the journey.

detailed timetable

A dining car was available from Chicago to Durand, Michigan, leaving the Joneses almost 2 hours to eat, if they hadn’t eaten before they left their family.  The next opportunity would be in a “Parlour Library Cafe Car” between Toronto and Montreal, 10 hours and 25 minutes later, just in time for breakfast at 9am.

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While the journey from Allegan, Michigan back to Lowell, Massachusetts was lengthy, the standard passenger rail cars of the 1910’s weren’t anything to sniff at…and you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s take the word of one of my fellow dweebs, a man who traveled annually more than 75,000 rail miles “just for the fun of it” and calculated that over the years he had ridden more than 1.5 million miles on rails.

Edward Hungerford (1875- July 29, 1948) was an American journalist and author of the book The Modern Railroad.  As self-admitted rail-head, he didn’t hesitate to wax-poetic about the iron alleys.

The railroad is a monster.  His feet are dipped into the navigable seas, and his many arms reach into the up-lands.

His arms stretch through the towns and over the land.  His steel muscles reach across great rivers and deep valleys, his tireless hands have long since burrowed their way through God’s eternal hills.

The railroad bids death and stagnation begone.  It creates.  It reaches forth with it’s life and life is born.

The railroad is life itself!

-The Modern Railroad (1911)

I think that R. F. Weingroff and E. Hungerford, had they ever met, would have been best friends forever.

Hungerford’s detailed book is available to read online via Hathitrust.org, an incredible partnership of academic & research institutions, offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world. The Modern Railroad taught me about the state of train travel in the early 20th century, specifically the conditions that the ‘common traveler’, such as the Jones family, would have experienced as they rode the rails to and from Michigan.  As someone who has taken several long-distance night trains on various continents, all I can say is those were the days.

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In 2014, My Gentleman Caller and I took a break from reality and spent 12 months traveling around the world.  If you are interested, we blogged about it at 365 on the Road.  Being a data nerd like myself, MGC kept a log of all of the various conveyances we took. In 12 months, we took 47 long-distance train rides and 123 short journeys.  That works out to be about three trips a week, one of them being a 4+ hour ride, for a little over a year. There were three memorable night train experiences, including one where we were nearly given the boot at the Polish border at 3am.

Over the last century, the acceptable level of comfort and convenience in our everyday life has sky-rocketed.  Our chairs are squooshier, we no longer wear corsets (mostly) and our cars have personalized, seat-specific climate controls.  We have our own personal sleep number and our precious heads are cradled by a pillows made of space-foam.  However, the passenger rail experience over the last 102 years has significantly decreased in comfort.

In 1912, sleeper cars for the general public were of the seats-by-day, beds-by-night style.  Unless you had a personal berth, your seats were laid flat at the collective bed time.  Would the Jones family have paid for a private berth?  Their daughter, Marjorie, was two when her brother was born.  The security of knowing your two year old and your new born baby wouldn’t fuss and disturb a full car of passengers may have been worth the price of a private berth.  However, we can’t assume that they had the funds to upgrade.

sleeperAnother option on certain trains, including the GTR route from Chicago to Boston, included “tourists” sleeping cars. These were older wooden cars that were downgraded when Pullman introduced steel cars for the first class passengers.  The tourist sleepers generally had rattan seats as opposed to the plush of the steel sleepers and was half the cost of the first class accommodation.  For your ticket price, you got a section space.  Initially you brought your own bedding, but eventually bedding became included in the price of the ticket.  A number of tourist sleepers had small basic kitchens on one end of car for passengers to prepare their own meals.

Electricity was standard even upon “unpretentious trains” and passengers did not have to “wrestle with difficulties of dressing or undressing in an absolutely dark berth.”

In 2014, we took a night train from Prague to Krakow.  I had the fortune of sharing this tiny berth with 5 other strangers for 13 hours. The bunks stayed bunks, stacked three on each wall, mounted at 2ft intervals.

Getting ready for bed on the Czech night train was difficult. As difficult as solving a rubik’s cube in a tumble dryer. The tiny amount of free space meant each new move required careful planning.  It was the classic conundrum of trying to get your fox, your chicken, and your sack of corn across the river, but with the helpful addition of polyester curtains that slapped the crap out of you as they were sucked in and out of the open window.  You may also have noticed the lack of overhead lighting.  There was a bare bulb that flickered until we unscrewed it before attempting to sleep.

The communal sleeping cars in Thailand offered little privacy and an even smaller amount of space.

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When we had a long train journey ahead of us, we plundered the station’s snack shop.  Armed with pringles, oreos and apples, we rationed our overpriced snacks over the hours.  Sometimes, a snack-seller was aboard the train selling thimble-sized cups of coffee for an outrageous price.  We would watch them pass, licking up the crumbs that remained from our sizable pile of wrappers.

In 1912, Pullman cars on the faster trains typically offered the table d’hote dinner – the dollar dinner, however the slower trains stopped for meals at important stations.  Hungerford opines that on the latter, the passengers piled “out of the cars and went across to some lunch-counter or dining room to ruin their digestion in the twenty minutes allowed for each meal.” During serving hours, dining cars had to move through several full meal services in order to remain profitable.  Hungerford suggests that the wise man on a popular train must “sacrifice his dignity” and hurry toward the dining-car at “the first intimation that the meal is ready”.

dining carIf you wanted to keep your dignity intact, you could visit the cafe car where two cooks and two waiters served smaller meals at a fixed low price.  Another option were the buffet sleepers or buffet parlor cars which were retro-fitted to have a very small kitchens where “a single accomplished negro may act as both cook and waiter”.

If we found ourselves on a train with food service, the ‘meal’ was served  airline style.  Small, pre-packaged bowls of steamed mystery food.

On the long distance trains in the early 20th century, the food served in the dining cars and cafe cars was locally sourced.  As the train passed through various reasons, the train would stop at major terminals and load up on fresh supplies of meats and vegetables.  The dining car staff looked at the route and planned accordingly.  The menu in the dining car would vary, depending on the fresh supplies they could pick up along the way.  Instead of building their shopping list from a handful of cookery books like the majority of us, the dining car department looked at a map. It was a remarkable operation, recognized by Hungerford in this passage: “This town has an especial reputation for its chickens; this for its grapes; this other for its celery.  The dining car department knows all these, and it selects under the rare opportunity of a housewife who has a market nearly a thousand miles long within which to do her marketing.”.

I do not believe that the food we ate was locally-sourced.   Most of the dining car horrors we coughed down (and occasionally back up) occurred in Thailand, a country that has the freshest, most delicious food in the world.  The fish in the above picture looked like the leftovers you would use to chum the water, and was presented scales and all.

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Other services the Jones family may have enjoyed included barber-shops, stenographers, and observation rooms for the women positioned far away from the smokey club houses at the front of the trains for the men-folk.  Ladies maids were installed and on-board nail manicures were in vogue.

manicureServices aboard our trains included a mesh shelf, and a rousing game of “You May Have the Top Bunk if You Can Figure Out How to Get Up There”

I should be thankful I didn’t have a small bundle of joy and a toddler to keep up with.

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I have the pleasure of knowing a 3 year old, and while I love her dearly, I couldn’t imagine being trapped with her for 31 hours in a box on wheels (before you call social services, she’s not mine).  Add a newborn baby into the mix, and that sounds like a stressful day and a half.

An article in the Los Angeles Herald, published in 1910, had some words of advice for families traveling with young children on the train.  You can read the full article here, but here are some of my favorite passages.  If only it was as simple as they suggest.

On the dangers of cinders:

If the weather is not too warm, it is a good plan to have a child wear his bonnet when he lies down. This will keep cinders from his ears and will help deaden the noise of the train.

A small pillow to put under his head, a light wrap to throw over him when he is asleep, a piece of veiling to keep the cinders from his eyes when he has his nap and a securely corked bottle of boiled water should all find a place in the basket.

On feeding your newborn:

Beware of warming too much of the baby’s food at one time. Many a mother has made trouble for herself, distress for her baby, and annoyance for other passengers by keeping bottles warm for such a long time that the milk soured as soon as it entered the child’s stomach. Only one bottle should be warmed at a time; the rest kept in a pail of cracked ice. An alcohol lamp, such as is used for heating curling irons, will warm a cupful of milk in a short time. Or, if you prefer, heat a little water in a cup and set the bottle in that until the milk is the right temperature.

On amusing your older children:

All children like to cut out pictures, and these, with a pair of blunt scissors for each child, will furnish entertainment for a long time. Advertising sections of old magazines will furnish lots of pictures to be cut out and are easy to get.

Finally, on sanitation:

Above all things, avoid the public drinking cup. Before a child leaves home, whether for a journey or for only a series of calls to be made with his mother, have him take a drink of water. But there is always something very alluring about the cooler on the train and every child wants to make frequent use of it. The ice water contained therein should be avoided if the weather is warm, and the drinking cup attached to the receptacle should never be allowed to touch a child’s or adult’s lips. A cornucopia made of a sheet of writing paper will not only be more sanitary and safe to use, but will prove a fun making novelty to the little people.

Sounds like a hell of a good time, doesn’t it?

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Do I have evidence that tells me why the Joneses were in Michigan for John’s birth?  No.

Do I know they took the Grand Trunk Railroad from Battle Creek, MI to Lowell, MA?  No.

I do know that they had to make the journey somehow, and based on the alternatives, I’m confident that they look a train.

It’s been a month since I started tracking down John and his family, and after four weeks of genealogical research, it was rewarding to step away and learn about a little slice of life in the early 20th century.

I feel closer to them.  I hope you do to.

I’ve tracked down the location of John Paul Jones’s grave and I will be visiting it tomorrow.  It seems fitting, after spending so much time this week thinking about his early days, to reflect on his last.

Coming up next: John’s life in Nashville!

Resources 

The Official Guide of the Railways and Steam Navigation Lines of the United States, Porto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Cuba, 42nd Year (January, 1910)

Edward Hungerford

Hungerford, Edward, 1875-1948. The Modern Railroad. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & co., 1912. – full electronic copy available at Haithitrust.org

Tips for Train Travel with Children – via clickamericana.com

Keeping Up with the Joneses – The Early Years

I’m a collector of things.  I like to have the full set.

I’ve got stacks of postcards I bought at thrift stores. I have over 3,000 postage stamps and a rapidly expanding vinyl collection that will soon require more shelving.  I have an urge to fill my kitchen with canisters…I like collecting.  This tendency doesn’t stop with physical objects, it also applies to information.  My deep desire to collect has aided me in my recent research – translation: I have been obsessively driven.  My motto became “find all the things”.

While I had great success in finding out facts about the man from the suitcase (which I will share with you here) the most important discovery was a complete surprise.

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Armed with a name, a birth year and the state the man from the suitcase was born, I bit the bullet and signed up with the mothership of genealogy research: www.ancestry.com.

John Paul Jones was born in 1912, in the state of Michigan.  This basic information came from his enlistment record, which I found in the National Archives.  You can learn more about that discovery in this post. It’s a fascinating testament to the dedication of the folks at the National Archives and all who contribute to the preservation of our Military records.

It doesn’t take an expert to use ancestry.com; you just plug in a name and off you go.  In fact, I encourage everyone to sign up for a free trial and have a poke around in the closets and steamer trunks of your ancestors.  (I wish I was being paid for this plug, but I’m not). You’ll almost certainly receive an instant pay-off, and your initial search may be the first step in a intriguing and rewarding journey.  At the very least, you’ll have the most interesting “what did you do this weekend?” story.

That being said, being a total rookie on genealogy research, I did what all children do when they are feeling overwhelmed and not up-to-task: I called my mum.  She’s done a huge amount of research on our family on the UK Ancestry site and she patiently held my hand during those first few steps, much as she did 34 years ago.

Mum

Mother Dearest – isn’t she cute?

 

The greatest lesson she taught me was always confirm your initial findings with at least one piece of corroborating evidence.  With a name as common as John Paul Jones, this tip proved to be handy numerous times.

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Ancestry.com presented me with three census records from the years 1925, 1930 & 1940.

As I didn’t pay much attention to my Government 101 class in high-school, I was unaware that the census is a requirement of the Constitution.  Now I am adult with access to the internet, I have no excuse to remain in the dark.  The Constitution requires that Congress conduct a census every 10 years to determine the representation of each state in the House of Representatives.  The first census in the United States, and the first country-wide census in the world, was taken in 1790.

In the 1920s, the population in densely packed urban areas had exploded, and the Southern Congressmen who represented large, rural states were getting squeezed out of the House.  After the 1920 census was analyzed, Congress discovered they would need 50 additional seats to keep the Southern states from loosing representation.  Without the addition, the seats of the South would be handed over to states like Massachusetts, where the population was booming.  Foreseeing a future when the number of seats would increase beyond manageability, Congress did not add seats or reapportion the seats in the house after the 1920 census. This was the the first and last time in the nation’s history that the census would not result in a redistribution of district seats.

This decision lead to a lot of political huffing-and-puffing, bill-blocking and general uncooperative bloody-mindedness between the Northern and Southern states for the next nine years. The stand-off lasted until the number of seats were capped at 435 in 1929 and 1930 census was once again used to create a more balanced ratio of seats to population.

Some things never change.

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Here’s the facts and figures part:

The earliest census that listed a John Paul Jones (b. 1912) was the 1925 census of Cayuga county, NY.  Recorded in the town of Union Springs, NY.

1925 Census

Here’s what the census tells us:

1925 census segment

J. K. Jones

  • Head of household
  • 43 years of age
  • Occupation: Minister

Vesti I Jones

  • Spouse of JKJ
  • 38 years of age
  • Occupation: House work

Margery Jones

  • Daughter of JKJ and VIJ
  • 14 years of age
  • In school

John Paul Jones

  • Son of JKJ and VIJ
  • 12 years of age
  • In school

The only thing that I couldn’t confirm is the date of birth.  At 12 years old in 1925, it’s possible that he was born in 1912 or he could have been born in 1913.  Following the sound advice of my mother, I knew I had to corroborate the names of his family with another source.

I flipped through my artifact binder, looking for any names other than JPJ’s.  I knew I had a letter, but it’s signed ‘Mother’ and the hand-writing is very hard to read.  I have some pictures, one which has ‘Vesta’ penned on the back, but it’s a picture of an infant.  Only the picture had the faintest link to the family name.  Starting from the beginning, I flipped through the pages one by one, scouring  artifacts for a clue.

Stuck behind a folded map of Paris was a blank cream envelope I hadn’t paid much attention to.  I fished it out and found a folded piece of creamy card stock.

Wedding Invitation

Bingo!  Elder and Mrs. J. K. Jones announce the marriage of their daughter Marjorie Ina.  Those are my Joneses!

The 1930 census is from the same town, and has a little more information on it.

1930's Census

Some additional details on this census include state of birth for each member of the household, total value of home and education history.  Details that differ or are new are italicized below.

1930 segment

J. K. Jones

  • Occupation: Minister at Adventist church
  • Married Vesta when he was 24
  • Born in Maryland

Vesta I Jones

  • Married JKJ when she was 20
  • Born in Indiana

Ina M. Jones

  • Born in Massachusetts

John Paul Jones

  • Born in Michigan

Based on the Home Data column, the Joneses rented their house for $25 a month.  With today’s inflation, that’s about $340/month.

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That deep desire to collect I wrote about at the beginning of this post?  Well, it’s certainly helped me, but it also got me into trouble.

Once I had the full list of family names and places of residence, the information came flooding in. I quickly accumulated stacks of information on the Joneses, JPJ’s life in Nashville and his work with the 7th Day Adventist Church.  My mum and I had hour-long phone calls, making rapid-fire connections and arguing over puzzles. Within a week, I had gone from two artifacts with a single name to over 62 electronic documents, 20 people mapped out on a family tree and 15 more promising leads.  I was buried.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been trying to compress all the information I’ve found into a blog post and I have been failing miserably. I would start it up and then fizzle out.  I’ve got piles of information to share, but every attempt felt like an essay about facts and figures…not people. To be frank, it was BORING. I’d slapped the laptop shut in disgust on a number of occasions, shoving it away across the dining room table with a sneer.  I’d lost the heart of the story.

One evening, ignoring the black hole on the laptop, I spent some time with the negatives I had scanned.  I began to post them on instagram, mainly for a small collection of found photo and genealogy enthusiasts.  I also documented some of the artifacts in the case, posting them to Instagram and tumblr.  As I handled each of them, I paid attention to their musty texture on my fingertips.  The fragile creases of the papers, made weak from decades of folding and unfolding, reminded me that other hands held these letters, maps and city guides.  The screensaver on our downstairs computer is comprised of our own photos and I often get caught up in them, re-visiting the places and the people I captured.  I’m sure it was true of the photos from the suitcase; why else do people take photos other than to look back at where they have been, remember things they had seen and felt?

These items belonged to people.  People like us: travelers, daughters and sons, lovers and friends.  It was time to pull that back into focus and find the people again.

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One other important document I found was JPJ’s Birth Record.  I found this on familysearch.org, a free genealogy resource run by the LSD.  John Paul Jones was born on October 9th, 1912.

JPJ Birth Record

JPJ’s birth is recorded on the City of Lowell, MA register.  Based on the 1930 census, I knew that the Joneses lived in Massachusetts during the birth of their daughter, Marjorie, who is only two years older than JPJ.  Here’s where it gets odd…

Why would JPJ’s birth be registered in Massachusetts if he was born in Michigan?  His is the only record on the page that has a birthplace other than Lowell, Mass (except for one baby born in Boston, a mere 30 miles away).  Before I found this document, I assumed that the family moved from Massachusetts to Michigan after Marjorie was born, and because the move happened in the years between the census collections, there would be no government record of their short residence in Michigan.  I think JPJ was born on the road…but why so far from home?

Birth Record segment

Lowell, Massachusetts is 853 miles away from Cedar Springs, Michigan…and that’s if you take a straight shot through Canada.  If you stick to the U.S. of A., it’s 100+ miles further, as you have to navigate around Lake Erie.

map - google

Why would the Joneses be so far away from home?  John’s dad was an Adventist Minister, maybe he was a traveling preacher?  I didn’t imagine that the salary of a Adventist Minister would support a sight-seeing tour of the Northeast, especially with a hugely pregnant wife. As I ruminated on these questions, my phone buzzed, alerting me to a text from Mum.

It was a lightbulb moment.  Why else do people travel millions of miles each year?  To see family!  What do I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed and not up-to-task? I call my mum. Who do you want to be around when you are really, really pregnant?  Your Mum.  It was a hunch, but it was enough to get started.

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A bit of quick math from the age of Vesta on the 1930’s census, I could put her birth year close to 1886/87.  After finding a marriage record for John K Jones and Vesta Ida in 1908, I learned her maiden name was Covert.  Her full birth name, Vesta Ida Covert and a birth year was enough to get me a hit on another census.

Vesta's census 1900

This 1900 census from the state of Kansas has Vesta, at the age of 8, living in Jefferson Co, Kansas with her parents, John and Mary Covert and her two brothers, Walter and Ezra.

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10 years later, in 1910, John and Mary Covert are in Allegan, Michigan.  Allegan is only 60 miles away from Cedar Springs, Michigan.

1910 Covert Census


Covert 1910 Census segment

I believe that the Joneses headed off to visit Ma and Pa Covert in Michigan.  Maybe the plan was to have the baby while they were there…maybe our man came a little early.  Either way…it’s a hell of a long way to travel back with two year old Marjorie and a new born baby.

Since I started thinking about the Joneses as an actual working, living family, I have become more interested in these little stories than the facts.  Although every little ‘find’ in the census was celebrated, it’s the stories that these discoveries tell.  I’ll be doing my best to dig out these stories and share them with you.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman

So…how did the Joneses travel over 800 miles to get back home?  Well, I have some ideas on that too.  Stay tuned for the next installment!

***SPOILER ALERT*** It contains a lot of cool maps!

Day by Day – From the Archive Library

So many of the artifacts in the suitcase are so random, I am going to have to do some deep digging to shed some light on them.  I’ve posted some of these in the Artifact Library, but as I get more inform on them, I’ll be sharing my updates here.

Day by Day – Handwritten Lyrics on Paper

Day by Day

What prompts someone to copy down song lyrics? During my research, I remembered my own reasons.

Before I delve into that story, some background on the lyrics in question:

“Day by Day” was written in 1945 by Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. It was first recorded by Frank Sinatra with Axel Stordahl & His Orchestra (August 22, 1945).

I’m a nut for this genre of music, so I was momentarily caught up in the backstory of Sammy Cahn. While you may not recognize his name, you probably know all the words to the majority of his songs…they are almost part of the human genome at this point.

Read more about this artifact in the Artifact Library

One in 23 Million – A Journey Through the National Archives

If you apply yourself in high school, you too could snag the title of Chief Administrator of the National Archives and Records Administration. NARA is an independent agency of the US government that is responsible for preserving and documenting all historical records in the National Archives. On your first day on the job as Chief Administrator, you would be informed that you are now the Archivist of the United States.

In addition to maintaining our National records, the NARA Chief Archivist is responsible for overseeing the official publication of all acts of Congress, presidential proclamations and executive orders as well as maintaining the original documents. If that’s not enough for you, NARA transmits votes of the Electoral College to Congress. Oh! You’re also responsible for safeguarding the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. The current Archivist of the United States somehow has time for a blog.  Really, the nerve of some people.

Wayne C. Grover was Chief Administrator of NARA from June 2nd, 1948-November 6th, 1965. He held the position for 17 years, which is the longest term in NARA history. Four incredible Presidents came through on Grover’s watch: Truman, Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ – during which the USA experienced…oh, I don’t know…almost EVERYTHING.

Here’s a small taste of what happened from 1948-1965:

  • The establishment of the CIA
  • The formation of NATO
  • The Korean War
  • The McCarthy Hearings
  • The invention of the T.V. remote control, Velcro, modems, “AA” batteries, zipcodes, cassette tapes, Legos and Scrabble
  • Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine, is launched.
  • Sony, a brand new Japanese company, introduces the first pocket-sized transistor radio
  • TV color broadcasting begins
  • Sputnik I becomes the first man-made satellite
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis
  • The start of the Vietnam War
  • MLK delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech
  • John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the earth
  • The first Ford Mustang is released

You think your workplace accumulates paperwork? Try keeping up with the bureaucratic droppings of two (almost three) wars, four presidents and 6 different variations of Congress.

On the other end, Trudy Huskamp Peterson sat the shortest term. March 25, 1993-May 29, 1995. She served under Bill Clinton.  I wonder what happened there?

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I know all this because instead of seriously digging into the archives, I spent a morning poking around  the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration’s website. The homepage of NARA has 50+ links on it, any one of which is a rabbit hole you could lose yourself down for hours. Clicking on the Explore link took me to a page with 20 more avenues for information. Other than a family tree project for my 8th grade Social Studies class, I’ve haven’t completed one shred of genealogy research. I snoozed my way through the mandatory college seminar at UNCG on “The Library – Your Friend”. To consider whatever research skills I had managed to absorb as “rusty” is an understatement. It would be fairer to say “completely corroded”.

However, I had a name, an Army Serial number and a full pot of coffee. What better place to start?

The name John P Jones and the number 34881692 are on two artifacts from the suitcase. I also have a letter addresses to J. Paul Jones, so I am assuming Paul is his middle name.

First, the front of an envelope. That’s not just descriptive…I only have the front. The rest has been torn or cut away along the folds.

239th Hospital Envelope

A handwritten version of the same name and number appears on the cover of an official Army-issued stationary set that contains a dozen almost transparent sheets of writing paper, each with a delicate, United States Army letterhead printed in blue ink at the top.

Signature

Before I launched my browser and landed at archive.gov, I placed these items to the left of my computer keyboard. On the right, my new notebook. This notebook had been carefully selected from the throng at the Office Depot the previous night, and keeping it company was a new ballpoint pen. I believe only through the trans-formative power of virgin stationary will a project get off on the right foot. You can’t just throw any old scrap of paper and crappy old pen together and hope for the best. That would be ridiculous.

I picked up the pen and wrote: Who is John Paul Jones, 34881692? on the top of the first page.

I looked back up at the computer screen.  Out there, somewhere in the 10 billion pages of textual records and 133 terabytes of electronic data held at the National Archives, could be a document that went part-way to answering my question.

I bookmarked the page and got the hell out of there.

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Fortified by another cup of coffee, I decided it my be wise to punch my own weight. My next stop was Google.

As it turns out, John Paul Jones is a pretty common name. I was fairly convinced that I did not have my hands on the personal effects of either Revolutionary War hero, John Paul Jones (July 6, 1747 – July 18, 1792) or more recent hero, the bassist, keyboardist, and co-songwriter for Led Zeppelin (whose given name was John Baldwin, anyway). No results returned when searching his name in combination with his serial number.

No results.

My first two attempts at armchair-research had hit both ends of the spectrum. The National Archives, which is the most intimidating Choose-Your-Own-Adventure ever assembled and Google, with it’s friendly search bar (so simple!). Both attempts ended prematurely.

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It was a week before I dug through my bookmarks and once again loaded the National Archives page. It turns out I was gun-shy for no reason, as 45 minutes later I found my first major discovery.

The Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 – 1946 is a compilation of 9 million individual enlistment records. It includes basic information such as serial number, name, residence at the time of enlistment, year at birth and birth state. Additional information such as marital status, education and civilian occupation lends the file some personal flavor.

As pleased as I am to share this small amount of facts with you about the man from the suitcase (and I promise I will in this post), there’s an even more intriguing story to be told.

That I was able to access an enlistment record at all is due to the outstanding diligence of both the Bureau of the Census and the computer programmers at NARA. The 1.5 page document that was submitted to my inkjet via a wireless connection and landed on the printer tray in under 20 seconds, took 30 years to compile.

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In 1973, a devastating fire at NARA’s National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis destroyed 18 million military personnel files, including 80% of military records for servicemen discharged between 1912 and 1960. Not only were these records of great value to the United States Armed Forces, but they were vital to veterans and their families. Official proof of military service is required for veterans to apply for benefits and receive recognition for their services. Proof is also required before a veteran can be buried alongside his or her fallen family in a military cemetery, as is their right.

After the fire, requests for records continued to arrive by the thousands each month. The archivists at NPRC, deprived of their most requested resource, had to look to other documents in order to piece together a veteran’s military history and provide an official Certification of Military Service. They turned to NARA for alternate sources, one such source was a series of microfilms of computer punch cards.

During the enlistment process, a punch card was completed to compile statistics about the enlistee. Using this data, statistical tables were developed in order to analyze the occurrence of certain characteristics of the enlistees.  This process was no more than simple data collection; a gathering of information that the Army planned to use to develop a demobilization strategy after the war was over.  In 1945, over 12 million men and women (more than 7 million of them stationed abroad) were brought home based on a point system that favoured length and certain types of service. The data that fueled that plan was collected, punch-card by punch-card, by the men and women at enlistment offices across the nation.

The original punch cards were destroyed as soon as they were recorded onto 16mm microfilm in 1947.  After the fire, the NPRC was given a copy of the microfilm to help them in their efforts to piece together the destroyed military records. However, while better than nothing, the microfilm was cumbersome. For starters, there were over 1,500 rolls of the stuff and they were organized not by the enlistee’s name, but in numerical order according to enlistee’s serial number. Shockingly, this was the resource (among others) that NPRC used for almost 20 years before they contacted NARA for help. They received approximately 1 million requests for military records annually, and the manual process did not cut the mustard. They needed electronic records.

In response to NPRC’s plea for help, NARA’s Center for Electronic Records contacted the Bureau of the Census, who had successfully developed a computer system to extract data from a microfilm of  censuses. Another promising sign, the Film Optical Sensing Device for Input to Computers (FOSDIC for short) had recently been modified for a punch card project. In 1994, FOSDIC converted almost 90% of the microfilm rolls into a digital file, which they handed to NPRC.

Sounds great, right? Surely, when you start with 1,500 individual rolls of 16mm microfilm that cannot be searched by name, there’s nowhere to go but up, right?

FOSDIC’s capability to interpret data had limitations. The program would ‘read’ a single punch card 10 times. If any results were garbled on the first read, the subsequent read would be a second attempt at interpreting the faulty information. This sounds reasonable, except the second read would only capture the individual letter or code it missed the first time, not an alternate version of the entire card. Repeat this process 9 more times. This could result in one punch card having 10 records, each card recording only a smattering of information, some of which could be ‘interpreted’ differently on more than one card. A composite record of the card was not provided.

An improvement over 1,500 rolls of microfilm? Yes. A usable system? Not quite. NARA attempted to write a merg program with little success and the logistical nightmare stayed in place at NRPC for 8 more years.

In 2002, inspired by the digital archive movement, NARA resolved to get the 23 million records created by FOSDIC, merged into one data file per original punch card.  Programmers were able to make a single record from the first and second “read” only. An algorithm that ventured beyond the second scan was too complicated to write (although, I am sure they’d welcome any new submissions). Even so, 23 million records were collapsed down into 9 million records, which make up the contents of the file I accessed on the National Archive website.

Pause a moment and reflect on the gargantuan wringer this data has been put through. Consider first the initial reason for the punch cards. They were for the collection of statistical data only; capturing an accurate enlistee name wasn’t top priority. Secondly, the microfilm was not in the best shape, FOSDIC was unable to interpret even one single piece of data on over 100,000 individual cards. The cards FOSDIC did read successfully were re-interpretted multiple times, and only the first two readings made it into the final digital file. Its almost impossible to determine whether the final version (ignoring the serial number) is accurate…or when the error occurred.

This data is my best shot at finding out about John Paul Jones. I suppose it’s time to tell you what I know. So here it is, via punch-card to microfilm – one in 23 million records to one in only 9 million – and now from me to you.

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The below is a snippet of the information found in the Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 – 1946.

Enlistment Record

Based on the all the information in the merged record, here’s what I’ve got:

John Paul Jones was born in 1912, the year that both New Mexico and Arizona joined the Union, the Titanic sank and the US saw it’s first Dixie Cup. He was born in Michigan.

31 years later, while living in Nashville, he joined the Army as a conscientious objector. The year was 1943, two years after the United States declared war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  World War II would last another 4 years.

He was a married man, with 4 years of college education.

As with this type of research, new discoveries only lead to more questions: Why did he move to Nashville? Was he drafted, or did he volunteer? What was his belief system that categorized him as a conscientious objector?

It might not be much, but it’s a good place to start.

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Resources:

Archivist of the United States wiki page

The National Archives