Sunday, March 19, 2017

Happy Ag Week!!

Today is the first day of Ag Week, a week "to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture" to paraphrase www.agday.org. This is a special week for me as a farmer, but it should be a special week for you as well.

For me this is special because one branch or another of my family have been farmers for as far back as I can trace. While all of the branches of my family tree have been farmers for the last 4-6 generations, the Winterton family has been farming for at least 10 generations, and probably forever.

But this should be a special week for all of you as well, because everything you eat and most of what you wear starts with agriculture. Because the American farmer is so productive, 98% of you can live and work in towns and cities across the country. 

In 1776, 40% of the American population were small or medium sized independent farmers, raising their own food and clothing. There were also large plantations, primarily in the south, that employed lots of labor, some free and many slaves.

Today the United States is the only country in the world that does not need to import food to feed its own people. While we do import food, it's because of convenience or desire. All of us like our fresh fruits and vegetables year around so they are often imported.

Farming is tough, dirty and sometimes dangerous. Unfortunately I know too many farmers who are missing a finger, toe, hand or arm. I only have to look in the mirror in the morning to find one of them. We have to deal with physical and mental stress every day. 



 It used to be all you needed to be a farmer was a strong back and a good wife. No longer. I really like the poster above. Farmers today have to be astute businessmen or women. That's right women. Farmers who happen to be women make up a quickly growing segment of our industry. 

So with all these hardships, why do I do it? Because I can. Because it is what I love! Most days I feel I am the luckiest guy around because I get to farm the same ground my father, grandfather and great-grandfather farmed.

Farmers are independent. We get to set our own hours, as long as the work gets done. The joy of watching a newborn calf or pig. The joy of a little corn seedling coming through the soil. The joy of harvest. The ability to stop for a moment and play with your dog. The joy of seeing your children while you are working, and yes, the ability to give your children farm chores.

We get to live and work with God's creation all around us. We get to listen to the birds sing, watch deer and squirrels. Faith in God is very important. I have found that most of my farmer friends have very strong faith lives and are active in their respective churches. We know that we are only helping God raise our crops and livestock.

This week, wherever you live and work, give thanks for the farmer who grew your breakfast, lunch and dinner; who grew the material in your clothes.  We do it because we love it, but appreciation is always nice.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Descended from Royalty?

This is a story, a story with many twists and a few surprises.
As some of you may know, I do genealogy as a hobby. It's like working on a jigsaw puzzle, except you don't know what the pieces look like, nor do you know the final picture. You just keep looking for a new piece to fit into what you have already put together.
I had a great start to my family tree. My uncle Russell Batie had researched the Batie tree extensively and traced it back to a chapel in Northumberland, England. I haven't been able to trace that line back any further, but there are more lines than just my paternal paternal line.
My father's mother's family is quite interesting to me since I live on, and farm their original homestead and tree claim after they emigrated from England. So I delved into the Pickering Family. I have traced them back to, and visited, Hartshorne, Derbyshire, England. One of my great grandmother's family I've traced back about 10 generations into Leicestershire. Pretty exciting.
I've also been trying to keep current with all the new marriages and babies and deaths in the family so we can keep a list of who's who. I am always behind. Facebook is great to get the birth announcements from proud grandparents, I just forget to enter them into the family tree right away.
On my mother's side the Burbank family has been traced back to Massachusetts in the 1600's. There are ideas how they got to Massachusetts but no concrete data. I have a copy of a Burbank family genealogy book that lists my 95-year old mother as one of the youngest members of the family.
One ling time stumbling block for me was my mother's grandmother, Maggie Turley. All of the Burbank cousins had heard stories of Maggie Turley. But the story ended with her. We knew that she was not raised by her parents and she died before her son, my grandfather, was married. So we had her picture and story of being raised and little else.
Then God stepped in. I have no other way of explaining how this could have happened.
When my mother was moving from her independent apartment to assisted living, my sisters and I were cleaning out her closets because she couldn't take many of her things with her. One box we got into had a packet of letters tied up with a string. One of the girls tossed it to me, since I was the family genealogist.
Since this was August and I farm, nothing was looked at until Christmas season. I then re-found the packet of letters as we were cleaning for family to visit. I untied the string, opened the letter on top and quickly went running up the stairs.
This was a letter to Maggie Turley, Yes, my great-grandmother. From her father, John. Who I didn't know a thing about. Included in the packet were over 20 letters from John Turley to his daughter, starting when she was too little to read until after her marriage.
Now why do I say this is a God moment? Because nobody still alive in the Burbank family had ever seen these letters before. Not my mother, who had them in a box for years, nor any of her brothers or sisters. They survived my grandparents moving from house to house during the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties. One year they even survived in a former chicken house because the family was so poor. How did these letters survive totally intact in perfect condition? How did they only come to light when I was ready and able to use them to trace our tree?
Included in the letters were references to a doll that he bought her for Christmas one year, the doll my sister inherited as Maggie's doll. Also referenced was a set of pictures of John. Which I had in another box of unlabeled pictures. His description was enough to ID the right pictures.
Later in the packet was a telegram from the Firemen of Chico, CA that her father John had died. As far as I can tell she never saw her father after he left her at age 2.
There were other letters in the packet, letters from friends in the Sandhills of Nebraska, letters from aunts and most importantly for me, letters from both of her grandmothers.
Turns out that Maggie's mother had died shortly after giving birth to her younger brother who also died. John was so distraught that he left her in the care of his aunt, Mary, and left for California.
The grandmother's letters included names of her mother, grandparents and great grandparents. I hurriedly entered that in my Ancestry.com family tree and leaves began to pop. For those who haven't used their website, they add leaves to a family member if they have hints for you. Usually they are connections to another family tree or census data or whatever.
Maggie's family includes the Long Family, the Goodpasture family and the Turley family. All three families are large and are intertwined several times as the families moved from Kentucky to Illinois to Nebraska.
The Turley line goes back to John Thomas Turley, my 4th great grandfather. He married Elizabeth Frogge. Next stop is John Frogge, my 7th great grandfather. He married Elizabeth Strother. Now things really got going. Turns out the Strother family is HUGE. And well connected. Now I can count President Jimmy Carter and General George Patton as cousins of mine, distant cousins to be sure, but still cousins. There is a Strother Family Society that I now belong to that does much research.
Links quickly went to William Strother my 10th great grand father. That is where it sat for several years as a stumbling block. It is really hard to get solid connections across the ocean. Thankfully another distant cousin found the right link.
Turns out that William (9th g.g.father) Strother's mother and mother-in-law were sisters. Yes that means first cousins got married. Get over it. It happened, a lot. Their maiden name was Savage. The distant cousin found them listed in a book of English Peerage. The group of Earls, Barrons and Kings of England. My family!
That list is extensively researched in England and several websites have the genealogy all laid out. Who married whom and who were their parents. All connected by links. It is easy now to go zipping down one family line or another. Many of the entries include fascinating tales of the individual.
First hint of royalty I got was with my 15th great grandfather Humphrey Stafford, who married Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne Boleyn who married King Henry VIII. Further research down that line yielded no other royalty, except that his father Sir Knight Humphrey was executed by King Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth that ended the War of the Roses. Humphrey backed the wrong King of England.
So I backed up and went down other lines, more fascinating tales. More executions. Seems like getting on the wrong side of the King was pretty easy.
And then I happened on the last name of Plantagenet. Now I'm no English historian, but I knew that was the name of one of the Royal families. So up that line I went. Sure enough, my 23rd great grandfather was King Henry III. From there it was straight up the King line to King WIlliam I, or William the Conqueror, or William the Bastard, depending on which side you were on. King William is my 28th great grandfather. Wow!
After a bit of mucking about in the family lines I found another way up to King William. Not to mention the sisters who were both in my family tree, and then there was the brother-sister set of grandparents. Needless to say the British Peerage is very inbred. I think I have found a total 8 different lines that lead to King William.
Many other family lines go back to the Norman Conquest that William led. Looks like many of his fellow knights are in at least one of my family lines. The most distant Stafford ancestor is there at least 12 times, maybe more.
This might sound really impressive. But when you consider that there are over 536,000,000 possible 28th great grandfathers, the chances of finding at least one that is famous is pretty high. The difficulty is going back that far.
I was very lucky. First that the packet of letters survived and was found. Second I only had to go a few generations on my own and then ran into extensively researched families here in America. Then the jump into the English Peerage is the luckiest find of all. All that work has been done for me and has multiple connections and sources.
So what does this mean? Not much, except that it is a fascinating hobby for me. No need to bow the next time you see me. I'm not really royalty.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Passing of a Generation

The last living grandchild of James and Harriet Pickering passed away this week. With her passing we have lost a connection to our past.

James and Harriet immigrated to Plum Creek, Nebraska in 1873 from Hartshorne, Derbyshire, England. James was a blacksmith and reputedly had a drinking problem. An uncle had come to America and he recruited James to follow. James sold all his belongings and left England with his wife and two sons under the age of 3. Twenty three days later they arrived in Plum Creek, Nebraska only to find out his uncle had left to return to England after the death of his teenage son.

James and Harriet had no money to return and Harriet vowed she would never step foot on a ship again so they homesteaded 8 miles northeast of Plum Creek, later renamed Lexington. James worked as a blacksmith in town for many years as well as doing some farming. The first summer, we have been told, the family stayed in a box car on a railroad siding until they had a house to live in. The first year he walked 8 miles to work and back as they had no money for a horse to ride.

The drinking problem followed James to America and contributed to his early death at 47. The farm however was growing. When he died he owned 720 acres of land. The family now realizes Harriet is probably who kept the farm going while James blacksmithed and drank.

The family also grew. After arriving in the United States three more children were born. The four sons and daughter all grew up playing and working on the farm. Sarah Ann Elizabeth was the first in the family to graduate from Lexington High School in 1898. The youngest son James followed in 1900.

The five children married and four of them settled and farmed within a mile of each other on or around the land of James. The oldest moved to South Dakota and farmed with his in-laws.

Thirty two grandchildren were born in the next generation, within a span of 25 years. If we remove the family in South Dakota there were 19 cousins living within a mile of each other with birthdays spanning 19 years. They all attended the same one-room country school just down the road.

As best as I can figure, one time there were 11 first cousins attending District 56 the same year. Oh, I forgot to mention that all of them knew sign language as Aunt Lulu and Uncle John were deaf. Oh, and they were all ornery. There are many stories of the cousins plotting what to do at recess during class time. Those poor young teachers.

The Pickering family has been having reunions at least every other year for decades. The last 15 years or so we have had the remaining cousins up front telling stories of their growing up as farm kids. They had no TV or other entertainment so they made their own fun. Hard to believe they all lived through some of their adventures. Barb wants to take some of their stories and convert them to children's books. Someday.

The Pickering clan is generally a long-lived line. Harriet lived to be 90. The five children lived from 79-95 years of age. The 28 grandchildren who lived past 12 have an average life of 84.5 years ranging up to 100.

With the passing of Eileen Batie Biehl, the cousins are all reunited in Heaven. My 94-year-old mother Leta is the only remaining spouse of those cousins. Now my generation is the senior generation of the Pickering Family. Scary thought. At least I am one of the youngest of that generation.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Happy Anniversary to Us!

For those of you who follow Barb or I on Facebook, you'll know that our anniversary was ... let us say interesting. For the rest of you I'll share some of the details.

Our 29th anniversary fell on Memorial Day this year. Since the crops were planted and were too little to be sprayed or cultivated, we took off that morning for Battle Creek, NE, Barb's hometown. While we always decorate the graves of my father's family in the rural cemetery close to our house, we rarely get up to Battle Creek to decorate Barb's parents and grandparents graves. This was the year to catch up.

We arrived at Ray and Lauri's (Barb's brother and wife) at noon. They were still branding some calves so we went on to the St. John's Lutheran Cemetery just north of their house and decorated her parents, paternal grandparents and great grandparents graves. Since we hadn't been there for many years we, I mean she, had a hard time remembering just where the graves were. It was a pleasure placing some iris blossoms at their graves since many of the cultivars had come from Battle Creek to begin with.

We then went back for a great lunch and a chance to meet and play with our great niece Molly. After a nap we were ready to head to Norfolk to decorate Barb's maternal grandparents graves and then onto have an anniversary dinner. We hadn't been to that cemetery for over 10 years and I'd only been there once, so Ray & Lauri led us. Once there Barb was happily arranging the flowers and filler with me being the handler. All went well until she snipped a stem that wasn't a stem.

It was the middle finger of my right hand. Barb went running for a WetOne to catch the blood. I looked at Ray and asked where the nearest Urgent Care was as I knew it was going to need stitches.

They led us right to Urgent Care of Norfolk, saying it was their favorite and they were "good stitchers." Their son Steven races motorcross and has a thick file there.

After waiting for several minutes for the doctor to finish stitching up the previous patient, we were ushered into the treatment room. The doctor was checking out the finger, making small talk, asking where we were from. After hearing Lexington, he turned, looked at Barb and said "Hi Barb." Turns out he was a doctor in Cozad 6 years ago and remembered her from then.

5 stitches later amongst some kidding about celebrating our anniversary with a trip to Urgent Care, we were done. We still went out for our anniversary supper with Ray & Lauri. Finger didn't hurt, just real awkward.

 So Happy Anniversary to Us! Wife cuts my finger and I get stitches. But actually this is a pretty good way to celebrate. Neither one of us is perfect and we know it!

Another blogger, Matt Walsh, has a blog making the rounds of many friends now. It's titled "My wife is not the same woman that I married" http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/05/29/wife-person-married/.

It's a good read and I agree with some of his points. The main one is that we all change. Some better, some worse. My wife and I have changed a lot in the 29 years we've been married. We still love each other, even deeper than before.

I don't critique other people's relationships successes or failures. I am not in their shoes and have no idea what is going on in their lives. All I know is that as long as Barb & I keep our focus on God and keep him a partner in our marriage we enjoy each day with each other. Each of us had great role models of parents who loved each other through thick and thin.

Is our marriage perfect? No! It can't be with two imperfect humans involved. In the past each of us has stormed out at least once. But we have learned to forgive each other, often! I can tease her about some of the things she does that annoys me and she can tease me about the things I annoy her with.

We try to get better, but face it, we're sinful humans who have foibles. I have learned to love her foibles and follies along with her great skills at cooking and writing.

And now I can tease her about those deadly garden shears on our anniversary!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Heathrow People Watching

If you want to people watch, you need to fly out of an international hub, like London Heathrow. I had the opportunity to have a 6-hour layover at Heathrow this week. After rechecking my luggage, my first flight was separate from the rest of trip, I crashed for awhile outside security on a convenient bench at a food outlet that was not busy at 7 am. What a shock.

When I decided to go through security in Terminal 3, I found a crush of people waiting in the seating area before the gates. London Heathrow has a nasty habit of not letting you know what gate your plane will be at until 50 minutes before departure. That way everybody is forced to wait by the big screen for their gate to be announced.

Conveniently, for them, quite a few stores have opened around the seating area, just waiting for the bored, or guilty feeling, traveler to stop in. There are stores that will sell you about anything you could want and carry onto a plane. Everything from Harrods to WHSmith Bookshop. Fine dining to cold sandwiches are available, for a price. Forget to buy your significant other a gift? No problem.

And then there are the people, thousands of people, it seems. Every nationality, every skin color, all waiting on the standard uncomfortable airport seating. You name the language, I'm sure it is being spoken somewhere around here.

The reason why is the possible destinations out of Terminal 3. Chicago, Singapore, San Francisco, Miami, Helsinki, Los Angeles, Warsaw, Washington DC, Istanbul, Bangkok, Tokyo, etc. Those actually were the flights listed in order of boarding while I was waiting for Dallas/Ft. Worth to show up.

Business travelers with their briefcases and laptops, kids with their dolls, teenagers with their iPods, even a farmer with his iPad, all waiting for their gate to show up on the big board.

It is easy to spot the traveler who missed his gate being posted at first for they are flying through the crowd trying to get to their gate in time. That is because it is a 20 minute walk from the waiting area to some of the farthest gates.

So if you really want to people watch, just plan a long layover at Heathrow. You will definitely get your wish granted.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hartshorne, UK


We took the train out of London to Leicester, pronounced Lester, in the East Midlands. We got brave and hired a car. Barb was brave enough to drive while I navigated. We left the car park hoping we could bring the car back in one piece.

21 round-a-bouts later we found the town that would be our base for the next couple of days, Ashby de la Zouch. Like much of Europe the origins of the town are a bit fuzzy, happening over 1000 years ago. Ashby, for short, is almost in the exact center of England. It is one of the areas that was controlled by The Lord Hastings in the 1400's. He built a castle and church in town. The church still stands, the castle, not so much.

The main purpose of the visit to the East Midlands was to check out my family's roots. My great grandfather immigrated from Hartshorne, Derbyshire, UK in April 1873 and homesteaded just south of where Barb & I live today.

We were supposed to stay at one of the pubs in Hartshorne, but the night before we left London I got an email that they had a mixup and they were double booked for our room. While not happy, they did find us a replacement room in Ashby, only about 5 miles (and 2 villages) away.

The first night we drove up to the church in Hartshorne, St. Peter's, where my family was baptized, married and buried. We walked around the churchyard, which is almost entirely covered in gravestones, and had almost given up hope when the last stone we looked at as the sun went down was my great great grandmother's, Sarah Pickering.

The next morning we also found the gravestone of her mother Elizabeth Evans.

We went to a historical society in the neighboring town of Swadlincote called The Magic Attic the first night. There were a number of very helpful volunteers working. They looked on one of their databases and discovered that my great grandfather's obituary had been published in the Derby Mercury on November 30, 1893.


We had a great time in Hartshorne and Ashby. It was great to get out into the country away from the big city atmophere of London. We were asked several times "Why did you come here?" They didn't understand why anyone would leave the city to come to a rural area. Little did they know that I live in a much more rural ara and felt happy out there.

Then we had to get back to our car rental agency in Leicester. Luckily the app I downloaded so I could have a map while offline recorded our trip out of Leicester, so"all" I had to do was keep Barb on the little blue line. 

Short story is we made it back and will happily let others drive from now on. We even managed to do this with a minimum of screaming at each other, other than "Watch out for the car from the right" and "Not this left, take the 4th (or 5th) left". Round-a-bout are nuts and even the Brits hate them. 

After a week of loving England we headed off to Germany, Barb's home country and where Cicely is studying for this year. Now she is the tour guide and I am merely along to enjoy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

England 2014

We are in Jolly Old England for a week on holiday. We are having a wonderful time. Below are some of my first impressions and memories.

First misconception is the language. The British speak English, Americans speak American. The words look the same. They may even be pronounced the same, but the meaning may be entirely different. Here there are prams, not baby carriages, highways are carriageways, trunks are boots, hoods are bonnets, gas is petrol, trucks are lorries, subways are tube or Underground, first floor is actually second floor (it goes ground, first, second), etc.  Right off I learned not to look for red Exit signs, instead look for green Way Out signs. And "Mind the Gap" meant watch your step.

The British are even more confused about the metric system than we are. They buy their beer in pints, but their petrol in litres. They measure small things in centimeters, but roads in yards and miles. I don't know about weights, but lorries are weighed in tons, but how much is a ton?

London is a huge town full of people. It is very old and the streets and layout of the town reflect that. You need to remember that when England was settled you walked from village to village. Therefore the towns were close, 1-2 miles between villages. It didn't matter which direction the paths went so you just went straight. There was no planning commission making sure everything would work out in neat straight lines and square blocks.

Fast forward to today and those paths are now streets. The villages have all grown together into one huge metropolis. Streets meander here and there. Every passage is named, even if it is only an alleyway because there will be flats (apartments) located off of it. Streets start and stop for no apparent reason. Building numbers start at 1 and go up the street, Even on one side and odd the other. It doesn't matter that 50 is across the street from 71 or 131.

London is used to visitors from other countries that drive on the other side of the street. Every intersection has the words "Look Right" or "Look Left" painted on the street to remind us where the traffic is coming from, quickly. We have learned to wait for the "Green Man" signal to cross streets, even though many natives cross when they feel like it. London did install many map posts around the business districts for the 2012 Olympics for all the visitors. They are great.

The people of England are very polite. They treat everybody as if they were Royal guests. My goal is to bring some of this niceness back to the States. Even the buses are polite. We saw one bus being towed with the sign "I'm sorry, I'm out of order."

If you are looking for a water fountain to get a drink, just forget about it. Haven't seen one yet. Restrooms are toilets but you go to the loo, not the toilet. Expect toilets to be either upstairs or downstairs, and rather steep stairs at that. Same with kitchens at pubs, never on the same floor as the eating area.

The food has been fantastic. Different than the States, but you need to expect that when traveling. After all why travel if everything stays the same. We have enjoyed the traditional English breakfast of sausage, bacon (ham), eggs (scambled or poached), mushrooms, toast, croissant, orange juice, coffee or tea, and baked beans. Yes baked beans. They are a breakfast item. No idea when and how that started and who was first, Americans with hot dogs or British with breakfast.

Cicely has discovered a rule of affordable restaurants. If the glasses are already on tables covered with linen, we don't need to look at a menu, above our price range. Pubs are more our style. The general rules for pubs are 1. Find your own table, 2. The menus are on the table, 3. Go to the bar, order and pay for your food giving your table number, 4. Enjoy your beer, 5. Repeat.

If you require Bud Light or Coors Lite, forget it. I have seen Budweiser listed at one pub, but never Lite beer. Here you get ales, stouts, ciders or bitters. I've discovered I'm an ale or stout kind of guy. Bitters and ciders no. 

Note about the food. Chips are french fries (actually makes as much sense), a crisp is a potato chip, a biscuit is a cookie. You put mayo on your fries or you may use ketchup. HP sauce is for everything.

Our credit cards are mostly out of date in Europe. We still use swipe cards and the Europeans now use chip cards. Hasn't been a problem, except ours don't work in the automated machines. I have learned to let cashiers know right off that it is a swipe card. The really sharp ones assume they will be swipe once they hear our accent.

And the accent. I love listening to some of the barmaids talk. I wish I had recorded some of them talking to each other. I had a hard time not laughing at them and the terms they used with each other. The British think all Americans sound the same, just like I think all British sound similar. 

They don't understand where Nebraska is, but that's OK, I don't understand where all their counties are either. I just tell them I'm frrom the middle of the States and they nod OK. They are shocked when I tell them how few people live in our area and that Lexington at 10,000 people is a larger town in Nebraska.

Next post will be about our trip to the East Midlands where one branch of my family originated from.