A Tragic Tale – Bessie Harper Slayback

William H. and Ricca (Nelk) Harper, Cecil and Bessie, circa 1896-98.

William H. and Ricca (Nelk) Harper, Cecil and Bessie, circa 1896-98.

Several years ago, I received some photos and newspaper clippings of the William H. Harper family from relatives at the Harper-Hunt family reunion, as this line of the family no longer had any living descendants. William H. Harper was the oldest son of John K. and Eliza J. (Hunt) Harper. As I perused the materials given to me, a tragic tale unfolded.

Bessie Harper was born 10 July 1893[1] near Woodbine, Iowa, the daughter of William H. Harper and Ricca Nelk.  She was my maternal grandmother’s (Amy Harper Taylor) cousin.  Bessie Harper became the bride of Herman Slayback on Wednesday, December 19, 1917 at 12 o’clock at the home of her parents, Willie and Ricca Harper, with about 150 guests in attendance.  Her bridal gown was pale blue silk with a veil of white net held in place by lilies of the valley.  She was attended by her cousin, Creola Burch, who wore white silk.  Both young ladies carried white roses.  Bennie Grinnell acted as Herman’s groomsman.  A reception was held the following evening at the home of the groom’s mother, Mrs. D. W. Dunkle[2].


Herman Slayback and Bessie Harper, Wedding Day, 19 Dec 1917.

Within the next few months, Bessie and Herman made their home in his hometown of Bloomfield, Nebraska.  Less than ten months after their wedding, the newlyweds would both become victims of one of history’s darkest moments – the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.

Herman was the first to succumb.  He passed away in Bloomfield on October 15, 1918 at the age of 29.  While his remains were brought to Woodbine, Iowa for burial, Bessie was left at home seriously ill with influenza and pneumonia, with her mother at her side.  Bessie died October 18, three days after the death of her husband, at the age of 25 years.  She is buried beside her husband in the Woodbine cemetery[3]

[1] Harper-Hunt Family Records, submitted by family members at the Harper-Hunt family reunions, Woodbine, Iowa, 1978-1980.

[2] Unidentified original newspaper clipping, “Harper-Slayback”, obtained from family members, July 2000.

[3] Unidentified original newspaper clipping, “Mr. and Mrs. Herman Slayback”, dated 24 Oct 1918, obtained from family members, July 2000.

Fabulous Find Friday – Gail Garnett in the Omaha World Herald

Gail1I was playing around with the Omaha World Herald archives at the Omaha Public Library website yesterday.  Lo and behold I found several articles on my father-in-law, Gail Garnett!  There were quite a few snippets about his “track star” days at Omaha Technical High School in 1940 and 1941.  However, this one actually has a picture of him! OWHJuly1941b: (Omaha World-Herald, 6 Jul 1941, p. 3-B, Col. 1).  

And another one with a picture of Gail in his Navy uniform: OWHMar1942 (Omaha World-Herald, 29 Mar 1942, p. 4-B, Col. 1).

One more of Gail and Corinne in Omaha on a visit: OWHJuly1951 (Omaha World-Herald, Evening Edition, 13 July 1951, p. 18, Col. 2).

What great finds!  I’ll have to see if I can obtain copies of the photos from the OWH archives.

Note: These articles are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004

Talented Tuesday – My Craftsy Grandma

I have been sorting, purging, and organizing boxes of memorabilia & genealogy “stuff” for the past week.  In the process, I unearthed a couple of “Grandma gifts” and had to stop and think about my Grandma Taylor (Amy Ruth Harper Taylor).  She was a true crafter — she could make something out of almost nothing!  She would have fit in very well in today’s circles of “green” and recycled crafters.

One item I had from her was a throw rug crocheted from bread bags. Oh, I wish I had a picture!  That rug lasted at least 15-20 years.  It finally fell apart in the mid-90’s and I am pretty sure she made it in the 70s.  One of the items I found in my treasure hunt through the boxes was a framed poem she had given to me(probably sometime in the 80s).  She had 


hand-written the poem and decorated it with dried flowers.  Yes, those are real flowers!  How did she know that this little piece of her would become so meaningful to me after my husband’s death (ten years after Grandma was gone)?  Serendipity I think.

Another item I unearthed was a Valentine’s card made by Grandma.  She was always sending us home-made things like that. You see, Grandma was a 1st grade teacher for over 25 years and I’m sure her love of arts & crafts was reflected in her classroom. Can you tell that the photo in the card is one of her “school photos”?  What is so precious about this Valentine is that the heart around the picture was tatted by Grandma.  I also love the inscription on the inside.  I can’t think of a better way to remember my Grandma than through the many “little gifts” she made for us through the years.  There were a few “duds” now and then, and my sisters & I will start laughing hysterically when we think back about the “turkey bone necklaces” we got for Christmas one year!  But the love she put into her craft projects is what makes all of them so very special to me.

GrandmaValentine1 GrandmaValentine2

Military Monday – Vel L. Garnett – Vietnam

Vel L. Garnett - 1966 What better day than the 25th anniversary of our marriage to highlight my late husband on Military Monday.

Vel L. Garnett (1947-2003) enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on 5 July 1966 and was discharged on 4 Jun 1972.  He was in Golf Company, 2nd Battalion 9th Marines  or “Hell in a Helmet”, as they called it.  Vel received the Purple Heart for injuries he received in September 1967.  He floated around on a hospital ship recuperating, then was sent back to his unit in January 1968.   I don’t know much about Vel’s experiences there, as he was like many Vietnam era veterans and didn’t talk much about it.  In the year before his death, he had really started making progress toward overcoming some of Post Traumatic Stress he suffered from for so long.  He began to reach out and connect with some of “his brothers” he had served with – swapping pictures, telling stories, reminiscing.

hellhelmutpatchIn researching Vel’s unit, I did come across an excellent blog by Beth Crumley on the Marine Corps Association & Foundation site: ‘2d Battalion, 9th Marines in 1967- “Hell in a Helmet”’, describing the 2/9’s activity during 1967.  No wonder they called it “Hell in a Helmet”.  I am trying to track down some of Vel’s buddies during his time in Vietnam to get a better picture of what it was like for them.    Maybe they can help me identify some snapshots he had.  Somewhere in a box in storage there is a large bundle of letters that Vel wrote to his parents while he was in the Marines.  I need to find them and preserve them so his children and grandchildren can know what a truly  brave soul he was.

Cure for Genealogy ADHD? No, Just Interventions

I ran across a very humorous blog recently…Heather Kuhn Roelker’s blog post on her Roots for Trees blog: Cure for genealogy ADD?add-should-be-called-men-s-t-shirt_design

Heather’s blog kicked my brain into gear.  In my non-genealogy life I am a school psychologist, and have worked with far too many kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder over the years (I also raised one, too).  I don’t think that many of us genealogists have adult onset ADHD, although it may seem that way, at times!  Rather, it appears that the easily accessed on-line information overloads our brains to the point that we can easily become distractible and disorganized, two hallmarks of the primarily inattentive type of ADHD.

I’ll be the first to admit that many times my brain has been stuck in that distractibility loop while doing on-line research.  I’ll start out looking at a census record for a Smith family I am researching, notice that great-uncle George’s family is living next door, and wonder if I looked up George’s death certificate on the new Missouri death record database.  I check my RootsMagic file, head over to the Missouri death records, decide to see who else I missed, re-check the RM file, pull up 5 more death records, notice great-uncle John, wonder if I looked up great-uncle John’s Civil War service….and so on and so on and so on –the loop is stuck.  If I’m lucky, I might get back to the original Smith family I was researching.

The same thing happens with my paper files, too.  Certainly if they were well organized I would have less temptation to become distracted.  I try to find a probate record, which, of course, is not filed where it should be.  Move on to the file tub full of records waiting to be filed.  Start digging through the papers, finally find the probate I’m looking for, but notice an early divorce record.  Did I transcribe that yet?  Check the computer to determine that I had not.  Grab the divorce record and forget all about the probate I originally came looking for.  It happens to the best of us.  The sheer volume of information we collect can become overwhelming.

With rapid access to voluminous amounts of records, our organization skills tend to decline.  Need I mention those piles of papers, or computer files waiting to be sorted and put into the proper place?  Time elapses, and instead of the piles disappearing, they seem to grow!  What we need is methods to sustain our attention to tasks, whether they be researching tasks or organizing tasks.  Naturally, with my background, I came up with a few methods to intervene with our ADHD brain patterns and behaviors, and get us back on track.


Interventions for Genealogy ADHD:

  1. Develop Research Plans & Use Them – Research plans for guiding your genealogy research help to maintain your focus.  They aren’t difficult to develop, and actually can be fairly simple.  Keep your research plans close at hand to remind yourself to use them.  Perhaps a sticky note reminder near your computer will help.  Start out with:
    • What do I want to know (i.e., John Smith’s birthdate),
    • What do I already know
    • Where can I find this information (census records, vital records, etc.)
    • How will I go about accessing this information (specific websites or repositories to search
    • What did I learn
  2. Use Research Logs – Research logs (also called research calendars) facilitate source identification and citation, and keep us from running around in circles.  Logs keep track of what you found, where you found it, and when you found it.  Admit it…how many times have you realized that you have re-traced your steps and located a source more than once.  Besides that, research logs make it so much easier to attach the source citation to the information found.  Easier ways of doing things always work for me.  Yes, it is cumbersome when beginning to use a research log, but the rewards are well worth it.  Family Search has both PDF and Word versions. The genealogy software I use, RootsMagic, allows you to create research logs within the program, and there is a webinar on how to do it.  Tom MacEntee has a great input form in Google Docs Templates.  And, with Evernote and OneNote using research logs should now be easier than ever before!
  3. Organize Your Paper and Digital Files – Develop a system for organizing your information.  Numerous resources are available, google “organizing genealogy research” and there are numerous useful sites (start with FamilySearch.org’s “Organizing Your Files”).  This is an on-going process that many of us have worked on for years.  Also, check out my friend, Susan’s, new blog, The Organized Genealogist.
  4. Accomplish Your Goals by Breaking Large Projects Into Small, Manageable Parts. – The trick is to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed.  Looking at the stacks of papers and files that need to be sorted and organized fills most of us with a feeling of dread and hopelessness.  Narrow your focus by tackling a small portion at a time.  Set a goal of short increments of time several times a week.
  5. Reward Yourself – We would like to think that the intrinsic value of staying focused and organized is reward enough itself.  In reality, we all work for rewards, whether they be social or tangible.  When you accomplish a goal or a change in behavior, no matter how small, share your success with your colleagues, family, and friends.  Social praise is highly reinforcing for the majority of us.  Find small ways to reward yourself.


Betty’s Prom – 1947

I’m a little late getting this out, as Prom season is almost over for the year.  For my nieces and nephews – this is Granny (Betty Ellen Taylor Smith Schwartman) ready to attend her high school Prom in 1947.  She and her mother (Amy Ruth Harper Taylor) made the dress.  Look at all the ribbon detail on each of the layers and around the neck & sleeves!

The prom was most likely held in the high school gymnasium, gaily decorated for the occasion.  The prom would have included a dinner, followed by dancing.  I’m sure they danced the night away to the swing and big band tunes of the era — Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, as well as ballads from the “Crooners”, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.  I bet Granny had a grand time!


Land Records Symposium in Beatrice, Nebraska

Mark your calendar for July 12 & 13!  The 2013 Land Records Symposium will be held in Beatrice, Nebraska. This is an on-going collaboration between the Homestead National Monument and Southeast Community College.  Conferences in previous years have been outstanding, and this year’s should prove to be no less, with a line-up of national speakers. Come join the fun!


Tombstone Tuesday – Charles M. and Mary J. (Howell) Smith


Smith Tombstone, Greenwood Cemetery, York, Nebraska – Section J, Lot 62

Charles Marshall Smith1,2,3,4 was born5 on 1 Mar 1851 in Wapello County, Iowa, the son of Charles H. Smith and Sarah Daubenheyer. He died5 on 3 Nov 1927 in Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California. He was buried6 in Greenwood Cemetery, York, York County, Nebraska.

Charles married7 Mary Jane Howell, daughter of Matthew Howell and Mary Jane Watkins, on 11 Nov 1870 in Wapello County, Iowa. Mary was born8 on 28 Mar 1851 in Monmouthshire, England. She died9,10 on 10 Oct 1910 in Surprise, Butler County, Nebraska. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery,York, York County, Nebraska.

1    1880 Federal Census: Nebraska, York Co., McFadden Twp., p. 508, dw. 117, fam. 117.

2    1900 Federal Census: Nebraska, York Co., McFadden Twp., p. 109A, dw. 177, fam. 177.

3  Homestead Application, Applic. # 15993, Final Cert. # 10658.

4  Iowa, Wapello Co.: Land Records, Bk 41, p. 347-350.

5  Certificate of Death.

6  Photo of Gravestones.

7  Iowa, Wapello Co.: Marriage Records, Bk 2, p 65.

8  Nebraska: Certificate of Death.

9    Nebraska: Certificate of Death.

10  Obituary, 20 Oct 1910.


Military Monday – The Smith Boys

Charles, Bob, and George Smith - circa 1946

Charles, Bob, and George Smith – circa 1946


Four of the sons of John A. and Margaret (Neville) Smith of McCool Junction, Nebraska served in the Armed Forces during the World War II era:  Robert E. (1922 – 1995) and James C. (1923 – 1987) served in the U.S. Army Air Forces, George H. (1925 – 1968) served in the U.S. Marine Corps (George also served during the Korean War), and Charles M. (1927 – 1969) served in the U.S. Army.

(Thanks again, Mary Beth Coffey, for the photo)!


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