Friday, December 23, 2011


My earliest Christmas memories come from our house in Detroit when I was six years old and my sister Kay was a baby.  The memories arise, as most of my early memories do, from 8mm. movies that my father took. I am never sure whether I am remembering the happening or the pictures of the event, but I am ever grateful to my father for keeping such a good photographic history of our family. 

I really cannot recall a time during my growing up years that we spent Christmas at home.  Fairly early on Christmas Eve day, Kay and I would get placed in the bathtub to get cleaned up for our trip and, lo and behold!  We would hear sleigh bells jingling, and, hurriedly getting dried and dressed, we would rush to the living room and find that Santa had made an early visit.  Mother always assured us that “He knew when we were going to be away as well as whether we had been naughty or nice.”  After opening gifts and exclaiming over them, we each got to choose just one to take with us in the car.  We would then bundle up and hop in the Chevy sedan and go “over the river and through the woods” to Grandmother’s house.  We always spent Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa Brown’s house in Jackson along with most of my aunts and uncles and cousins.  My mother had nine brothers and sisters and I had 15 cousins on that side of the family.  Most of these cousins lived with their parents in the Jackson area, so the gathering was always large and noisy, but I remember it as a truly happy occasion.

Because we were going to be gone on Christmas Eve and the next day, our tree at home was decorated a few days before Christmas. It was always a real tree, usually a balsam or spruce, because our family liked to have some space in the branches. Father’s job was to set up the tree and put on the strings of lights.  Then Kay and I helped Mother decorate the tree.  I recall the glass balls and ornaments--I still have a few of them--and the “icicles” that were carefully separated and hung after the ornaments were put in place.  None of that throwing on clumps of icicles for our family.   

Running in a circle under the tree was my father’s Lionel train.  When he turned it on, the headlight on the engine would light, and the control would make the train go around the tree. I am pretty sure there was also a whistle and smoke coming from the engine. The cars were large enough to hold small treasures which we were allowed to place in them.  Also under the tree or close by would be the little Christmas scene which mother would arrange.  She used a flat mirror for an ice rink and had lots of cotton for snow.  The figures and buildings were not the “village scenes” available today, but were little cardboard buildings covered with glitter and some matching snowmen that were made in Japan and could double as ornaments.  There were also little “bottle brush” trees whose green branches were tipped with “snow”.  I still have a few of these trees and figures, which occupy a place of honor on my windowsill at Christmas time each year along with an antique Santa in his sleigh which we inherited from my husband’s family.

The overpowering idea of Christmas that I remember was that Christmas was a time to get together with “family” to share the wonders of the season.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Genealogy Lessons Part Two

          There were so many interesting stories it was hard deciding where to start. Remember this was back in the early 1990s. The internet was really in its infancy and genealogy research usually had to be done the old fashioned way. I was also in my infancy as far as genealogy was concerned. I did know how to do research however.
          So I decided to try to prove my Grandfather Brown's connection to John Brown, the abolitionist. If he was a nephew, I had to find all of John Brown's siblings. Before I was through, I knew an awful lot about John Brown's family, but did not find any that could be the father of my Edwin. I also learned one of the cardinal rules of genealogy; Always start with the known and work back in time. I put the papers about "Uncle John who is mouldering in his grave" in my archives just in case someone discovers something new.
          I am going to quote the next paragraphs from the "Jackson Citizen Patriot" newspaper in 1952.
   "The Jackson octogenarian has had an eventful career. After he was graduated from the University of Michigan in 1880, he was taken by the governor of Michigan to see President James A. Garfield in Washington, and there Brown received the appointment of United States marshal, assigned to the states west of the Mississippi river. He held that post for 18 years and six months, working principally out of Denver, Colo. and Phoenix, Ariz. and in conjunction with the 16th United States cavalry.
    "He helped put down an oriental dope ring on the border between Canada and the United States, he saw outlaw gangs come and go in the Middle West, and he had met Col. William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody many times. in fact, they belonged to the same Masonic lodge at Denver.
   "Once, Brown recalls,  he was shot at from ambush 35 miles from Reeder Fort, Wyo. His horse was killed and he was struck in the left leg, He doesn't know who fired upon him, or why."
            I had help from some of my cousins who attended U of M as they did a lot of looking and could find no record of our Grandpa attending the University. Then I finally found his family in the U S Census of 1880 and Edwin was 11 years old, a little young to be graduating and appointed a marshal. As for knowing Buffalo Bill, I called the Masons in Jackson, Detroit, and Denver and none of them had any records of Edwin Brown. Another cousin, who lived in Wyoming, called the Buffalo Bill museum and they checked their list of over 100 people who knew Buffalo Bill and were invited to the opening of the museum. No Edwin Brown on the list.
            As for being a U S Marshal, I went to the original records at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. I was directed down a long hall to an old elevator in which I rode to the seventh floor and walked down another hall to the office where they kept the records and reports of the U S Marshals. Thankfully they had an index, but no mention of Edwin Brown. The kindly man who was helping me, smiled and said,"Lots of men dreamed that they were U S Marshals".
            All I can say right now is my grandpa sure had a good imagination and must have been a good reader. Stay tuned to this blog. "You ain't heard nothin yet."