#52Ancestors Week 8: Heirloom

When everybody knows you’re the one who cares, you end up with a lot of heirlooms, papers, and ephemera. I’m like the Little Mermaid of my family, with who’s-its and what’s-its galore: from great-granny’s giant wooden spoon, knife, and fork set hanging on my kitchen wall (not to mention her biscuit pan and rolling pin in the cabinet), to a Shaker-style quilt which belonged to my step-great-great-grandmother, to my grandmother-in-law’s genealogical research files, to my great-grandmother’s high school yearbook, to my great-granddaddy’s shellback ceremony photos–you want thingamabobs? I got twenty! But who cares? No big deal. I want moooorrreee–

I’m sorry, where were we?

Right. Heirlooms. I’ve got a lot of ’em and I’d be hard pressed to name a favorite, but I think the most meaningful “saves” I’ve ever made are recordings of my late grandfathers’ voices.

My maternal grandfather (Granddaddy) died about six years ago. I’ve got a little brother over twenty years younger than me, and when he was tiny, Granddaddy and Grandma gave him one of those record-able Hallmark storybooks. Grandma and Granddaddy recorded Lightning McQueen and His Winning Team for my kid brother less than a year before Granddaddy died. Granddaddy’s maternal uncles were professional race car drivers in the twenties and thirties, and he was an amateur driver in his own right as a young man, so you best believe listening to my granddaddy read the page about Doc Hudson in his Southern baritone is something I can only do about once a year. (And let’s not even talk about how much I thought about my granddaddy and cried through Cars 3).

H.D. Lyons aka Granddaddy racing, circa 1960s; digital image January 2012, privately held

I bought a copy of the same record-able storybook for my own son, thinking I’d use Grandma and Granddaddy’s rendition of Lightning McQueen and His Winning team for his book too, but since I burst into tears every time I hear it, I think it might be better to get a new rendition from my in-laws. My husband made a recording of the audio just in case something happened to the book, and I’ve got that file backed up every which way.  I’ve got an actual tape of Grandaddy in my files too, one of my mother and some of her brothers with him back in the seventies, but the audio is heavily distorted. We haven’t been able to rescue it yet, and may never be able to. But at least we’ve got Granddaddy reading about the denizens of Radiator Springs.

My paternal grandfather (Papa) was only sixty when he died back in 1999. When his stepfather, the man I called Church Papa because he was a preacher–who functioned as a great-grandfather to me even though he was actually my great-grand-uncle; a story for another day–died in 2011, I helped my grandmother and great aunt clean out his house. In a stack of old cassettes, I found a tape that my Papa, Grandma, bio-father, and uncle recorded from Okinawa in 1979. Papa was stationed at Kadena Air Force Base at the time, and they’d recorded a solid hour of themselves just chit-chatting and talking about their lives to send back to Church Papa and Granny in North Carolina.

When we realized what it was, my grandmother and I were in a bit of a shock. We took the tape home to her house and played it. For the first time in over a decade, we heard Papa’s voice. It happened to be my birthday. We cried. A lot. Hearing my Papa’s voice again was probably the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten, bar none. I took the tape home with me to California, where my husband digitized the audio. I don’t listen to it often, but I like knowing that my son will one day be able to “meet” my Papa, who at one point jokes about going back to work in the cotton mill after his retirement from the Air Force–which he’d joined partly to get away from the cotton mill in the first place. Later on, he even talks my grandmother into singing a gospel song while he accompanies her on the guitar.

Speaking of, I’ve got a CD full of gospel songs Church Papa recorded with the other musicians at his church some time in the early 2000s, but I’ve lost track of the back-up. I guess it’s a good thing this prompt came along to remind me.

And now that I’m on the subject, we’ve also got a gospel record my husband’s grandfather cut in 1964. It’s one of several copies, but my husband wasn’t given his own until, well…the funeral. He babied the thing through airport security, and it hung on the wall in our son’s room until our little Destructo-Bot broke the frame (but thankfully not the record or his skin). If you’re into that sort of thing, enjoy:


#52Ancestors Week 5: In the Census

Before the 1940 Census, enumerators made no note of their informants. It’s impossible to categorize pre-1940 census data as primary or secondary information when you don’t know who told the census taker what. Most of the time, we just plain don’t know whether the census taker talked to great-great-great grandpappy or a neighbor down the road–which is of course why the thorough genealogist relies on more than just census data.

But if you’re lucky, great-great-great grandpappy was the census taker:

William Martin Crymes, 1880 census taker for Waynesville, Haywood County, North Carolina, enumerated his own family beginning on Line 21.1

The Asheville Weekly Citizen published a list of western North Carolina census takers in May of 1880, including their name, district and–to the best of the paper’s information–political party. W.M. Crymes was listed as Republican,2 which begs some questions about his Civil War service, but that’s another post for another day.

William was also a census taker in 1890, which makes the near-total loss of the 1890 census even more acute for me. Nearly all of the original census questionnaires for 1890 burned in 1921, and the only reason I know W.M. Crymes was appointed census taker that year is because the Citizen once again reported as much3…with a lot more editorializing than the straight-to-the-point list the same paper published in 1880:

The Asheville Citizen was wicked bitter about the 1890 census.

Granted, the 1890 Census questions were more comprehensive than in previous years, but the Citizen appears to have had a disproportionately big bone to pick. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that the Citizen was a Conservative Democratic paper4 while both the governor of North Carolina and the president at the time were Republicans.

At any rate, when it comes to the 1880 Census, I’m in the rare and unique position of being able to categorize each piece of data as primary or secondary information, because the head of household himself is the one who wrote it all down.

Now, if only I could time travel to 1921 and stop the Commerce Building from catching fire…

1. 1880 U.S. census, Waynesville, Haywood County, North Carolina, population schedule, enumeration district 84, p. 138 (stamped), p. 31 (penned); digital image, “United States Census, 1880,” Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YB6-9CJC : accessed 21 February 2018).
2. “List of Enumerators of the Census Appointed for Counties West of the Blue Ridge,” Asheville (N.C.) Weekly Citizen, 20 May 1880, p. 8, cols. 1-2; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/63416112 : accessed 21 February 2018.)
3. “Census Enumerators,” Asheville (N.C) Weekly Citizen, 5 June 1890, p. 6, col. 2; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/61577069 : accessed 21 February 2018).
4. William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), “Asheville Citizen Times”; transcription, NCPedia (https://www.ncpedia.org/asheville-citizen-times : 21 February 2018).