Friday, August 17, 2012

Richard Raymond Peerboom - Part 1

There are often people in your family tree who tell an important story about your family, although they are not related through blood or marriage. One such person is Richard Raymond Peerboom. He was raised by my grandfather in his youth and, as far as I knew, played a small part in our family.

While searching through old family photos, my dad found a photo of Richard and said "this is my step-brother, Dick. My dad felt sorry for the mother because she didn't have a name to give him and so he gave Richard his last name. He was in Korea driving a truck and the road gave way and he was killed." That small amount of information was all I had to go on. As anyone who has ever researched family history knows, there is much more to any story, this one included,  and I was determined to find it out everything I could.

I performed a basic search in Ancestry for "Richard Peerboom" and located his name in the California Death Index. If he died in Korea, why would he have a California Death Index record? Does the military allow states to issue death certificates if the soldier didn't actually die in that state? What I was able to find out from this record that Richard was born in 1931 and died in 1952. He was only 21 years old when he died. So young and with so much to give to world.

The photo I had of Richard showed him in a military uniform (a pretty handsome guy, don't you think?), but nothing in any military record searches turned up more information for Richard Peerboom.

Richard Raymond Peerboom, ca. 1952.

Fast forward one year. updated their military records holdings and Richard appeared in U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls. OK, so now I know where the military part comes in - he was in the Marines, stationed in Camp Pendleton, California. But, if he died in Korea, even though he had been stationed at Camp Pendleton, would a California Death Record be issued for him? Wouldn't it be some sort of general U.S. military record for his death? So, the digging continued.

The records I located were interesting. There were three (3) main muster roll entries for Richard. The first record is for April 1952. He has a rank of E2, which is a Private First Class. He was part of the 6th Recruit Training Battalion from Parris Island, South Carolina, now stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, just outside of San Diego. If you have ever seen photos of Parris Island, South Carolina, you know it is a hot, wet, swampy place to be - not fun now, and certainly not in 1952. Camp Pendleton, on the other hand, is hot, dry and desolate. Having to train with the Marines in those two locations is enough to earn respect from me and added depth to Richard's story.

In July 1952, Richard was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, enlisted in the Marines' supply school. I envisioned him learning how to procure supplies "Klinger-style" (the guy from M*A*S*H*). Hey - it was the same time period, so let's just go with it. It provided an image, in any event.

The next record was by far the most interesting. It was from October 15, 1952. The text was from the Unit Diary. It stated, "Drop died 11 Oct 52 of injuries multiple extreme in truck accident 2220 11 Oct 52 declared officially dead 2300 11 Oct 52." So he died of extreme injuries (must be truly awful if even the military uses the word "extreme") only 40 minutes after an accident at 11:00 p.m. So, he was in an truck accident that happened near midnight? What was going on here?

It appeared that the truck accident part of the story was true, but Richard died at Camp Pendleton, not in Korea, which explains why he was issued a California Death Certificate. I started searching for newspaper articles; maybe there was some mention of the accident in the San Diego newspapers. I couldn't find anything mentioning him or Marines being killed in accidents. I did, however, locate an article that finally told me what really happened. It was from the San Diego Union, Wednesday October 15, 1952.

There had been training maneuvers at Camp Pendleton to prepare the Marines for invasion into Korea. This and other articles indicated that the Marines did not want a repeat of casualties from the D-Day invasion during World War II and wanted to use a mock-battle to help the soldiers learn the best way to invade Korea's beaches while staying alive in the process. Unfortunately for Richard, it didn't work. He died on the first day of these maneuvers and never made it to Korea.

I know it was the 1950's, but I was truly disappointed that there wasn't any mention of Richard dying in these maneuvers. It also saddened me deeply (I actually cried at the dinner table while relating to my family what I had learned) to know that he had endured tough training at Parris Island, learned about the supply chain for the Marines, and was ready to defend the United States in Korea, but never even got the chance to leave American soil. In fact, he died on the very first day of the training maneuver. 

Richard would be 81 years old today, possibly with grandchildren and a family who loved him if it hadn't been for this mock-training exercise. Very sad indeed.

But what was Richard's life like before this all took place? What was his mother's name and where was he born? Stay tuned as I answer these questions and more.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Deep in the Heart of Texas

If you've ever met anyone from Texas, you know how deeply the devotion to the state runs. For those of us not "privileged" enough to have been born in Texas, the devotion may seem slightly overstated. However, as the commercial says, "It's like a whole other country," and for those from Texas, this statement runs especially true. So, for my husband, who is a proud Texas native, finding a genealogical link to the Republic of Texas would be the ultimate in family history status, competing (for him) with membership in the Sons of the American Revolution.

During my research on my husband's family, it seemed as if the Sons of the Republic of Texas membership was quickly slipping through his hands. Everyone was from some place other than Texas, and I had yet to discover any evidence that his family arrived in Texas before the late 1800's, well past the Republic of Texas' time frame.

For those of you not familiar with the Republic of Texas, the Republic was an independent nation in North America, bordering the United States and Mexico between the years 1836 and 1846. It encompassed what is today Texas, as well as smaller parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas. In fact, then President Andrew Jackson even sent diplomatic agents to the Republic, thereby recognizing it as an independent and sovereign nation.

Map of the Republic of Texas, ca. 1836

Remember the Alamo? That battle, in which famous men such as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett died at the hands of the Santa Anna and his Mexican Army, was fought right after Texas became a Republic (in fact, the Republic of Texas was officially declared on March 2, 1836, and the Alamo fell four days later).

Now, we've all seen the images from that famous John Wayne western, The Alamo, in which gloriously brave men fought the evil invading army, holding onto their new Republic until the bitter end. Who wouldn't want to be a part, at least through family history, of that event? I believe it is equal to the American Revolution for images of drama and glory and courage.

So imagine the surprise and jubilation when I did discover a family link to the Republic of Texas. Oh, happy day! Cautiously (and after many hours of shouting from the rooftops over this illustrious event) I double checked my research to ensure that I had not overstated my husband's connection.

My research appeared as if it was holding. And while my husband's connection to the Republic of Texas does not involve the Alamo, it seemed as if I was able to establish a connection nonetheless. My husband's fifth great-grandfather, Benoni Middleton, settled in Texas, dying there in 1842.

Benoni Middleton, originally named Benjamin Middleton, was probably born in Kentucky about 1776 (why he changed his name from "Benjamin" to "Benoni" is unknown; he may have been wanting something with a more international flair). Using a United States Land Grant for his service in the War of 1812, he and his family moved to Illinois around 1820, where he purchased 160 acres for $1.25 per acre in 1830.

Not all of Benoni's family moved to Texas with him. Many of his daughters had already married and stayed behind in Illinois. Hannah Elizabeth Middleton, identified as one of Benoni's daughter's, and my husband's 4th great-grandmother, did indeed stay in Crawford County, Illinois with her husband Ithra Brashear, dying there in 1846.

Around 1837, the opportunity to own more land, specifically 1,280 under a Republic of Texas Land Act, probably pushed Benoni and many of his family south, into what is today Leon County, Texas. There he settled with his wife and children near Fort Boggy. The Fort was established in 1840 by President Lamar and built by the Texas Rangers to protect the local white settlers from Kikapoo and Kichai Indian attacks. Benoni did not get to enjoy his new home for long as he died in January 1842, allegedly from an Indian attack.

Benoni's three sons, William, Thomas and Benoni, Jr. went on to participate in the Mier Expedition, in an effort to defend Texas from the invading Mexican Army. All three men were imprisoned by the Mexicans and sentenced to death by the Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Deciding to make the idea of execution more interesting, Santa Anna instituted death-by-lottery. The prisoners selected beans out of a jar and those selecting black beans were blindfolded and shot. The three brothers were spared from death by the lottery and were taken to Mexico City as prisoners. William and Thomas eventually made it back to Texas, but Benoni, Jr. died in prison in Mexico City.

Now, as with many great stories, the ending is not one that ends in triumph, but in great tragedy and disappointment. I am not referring here to Benoni, Jr. dying in prison, but something that hits much closer to home. So eager was I to discover a Texas connection, that I didn't look as carefully as I should at the evidence. Oftentimes in the pursuit of an exciting connection in family history, we overlook details that should be the very first thing that we verify.

The birth date of Benoni and his alleged daughter, Hannah Elizabeth Middleton, who married Ithra Brashear, didn't add up. Benoni would have been 8 years old when Hannah was born, which, even back then, is nearly impossible to believe. The evidence points instead to Hannah being Benoni's sister, making Benoni Middleton my husband's 4th great-granduncle.

Obviously, I am disappointed with the outcome, but my husband can still be proud of the adventurous and courageous spirit that Benoni and his family had. And although my husband may never be a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, he may be assured that the same brave spirit that ran through their blood runs through his as well, just slightly more diluted.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christian Drager - Shoemaker

Christian Drager, my father's great grandfather, was born in Angerm√ľnde, a town in the province of Brandenburg in Germany. It is in the far east of the country being about 10 miles from the Polish border and about 45 miles from Berlin. When Christian was about 7 years old, he immigrated to the United States in 1867 with his parents, Charles Friederich Drager and Dorothea Louisa Streble, and five siblings: John, Charles, Marie Louise, August and Ferdinand.

By the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, the Drager family had settled in Casco, St. Clair County, Michigan, a small farming community about 40 miles northeast of Detroit. At this time, Christian was about 10 years old and was listed as "At School" under his occupation, but he and his siblings most certainly helped on the family farm.

By 1880, Christian was living in Armada, Macomb County, Michigan, a town about 16 miles to the northwest of Casco. He was a boarder with the James R. Dryer family. Mr. Dryer owned a boot and shoe store and Christian was working in the shoe store. Whether he was an apprentice at that point is not clear. Because he was nearly 20, he had probably either ended or was coming close to ending his apprenticeship.

1880 U.S. Federal Census showing Christian Drager working as a
shoemaker in Armada, Michigan.

Around 1883, Christian married Emma Amelia Hourtienne of Macomb County, Michigan. He and Emma had three children: Albert, Edward and Elsie. Christian and his family eventually moved to Detroit and by 1890, Christian was working for L.N. Valpey & Co., a prominent shoemaker in Detroit (Family lore tells that he made shoes specifically for handicapped people, but I haven't located any information at this point verifying this information).

1894 Advertisement for L.N. Valpey & Co. in Detroit, Michigan.
Note that the company does not extend credit in order to offer
customers better prices.

In May 1895, Christian married Mary Jasper and they had one child, Hildegard Clara Drager. He and his family made their home at 782 St. Aubin Street, where they shared their home with Herman and Helen Hamel. The Hamels made confections. In the 1896 Detroit Directory, Christian is listed as making confections, as well as being a shoemaker. It is possible that the Hamels learned confection-making from Christian and then took over the confection-making business as their own, because by the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, the Hamels are listed as confection makers, while Christian is listed as a shoemaker.

Success eventually came to Christian and by 1910, he and Mary had moved to 1585 Medbury Avenue, a home which they owned free, without mortgage. During this time, Christian also improved his standing in the community, becoming proprietor of a shoe shop.

By the time Christian reached age 60, he and Mary had moved back to Macomb County, Michigan and purchased a farm, again which they owned free, without mortgage. After retiring from shoemaking, Christian sold produce to the local market. Christian and Mary lived on the farm for a little over 10 years and Christian died of kidney complications on 10 Feb 1928.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ancestor Approved Award

I received this award from Alice Keesey Mecoy, who has a wonderful blog about her great-great-great grandfather, John Brown, the famous abolitionist, as well as other members of the Brown family. Her blog can be seen here:

The award comes with homework : “list ten things I have learned about any of  my ancestors that has surprised, humbled, or enlightened me and to pass the award along to ten other blog writers whom I  feel are doing their ancestors proud.”

Many of these discoveries I have mentioned in the blog already, but for the sake of completing the "homework," I will mention them again.

1. Walter Rockey, Sr. served the United States in World War I. His service was never spoken about and it was by pure coincidence of research and seeing his grave for myself that I discovered the brave and heroic duty he completed for his country.
2. My husband's family, which ended up in Texas for several generations, is originally from Delaware.
3. I am amazed at how often proximity versus attraction/affection affected who our ancestors married.
4. My father's grandfather, William Russell Shaw, from Detroit, Michigan, disappears after the 1930 census - I can't wait for April 1, 2012.
5. I am thankful for thorough attention to detail in the obituaries of my family. Many brickwalls have been crumbled by a few key words in a final memorial.
6. Families didn't move as much as we think. My mother's family is all from Williams County, Ohio for several generations. It makes research so much easier (sometimes).
7. I am amazed at how little people know about their families. I am disappointed if a family line "dead-ends" in the 1800's; a co-worker of mine doesn't even know his grandparents' names.
8. Variations in name-spelling is one of the devilish parts of my research. The name "Rockey" could be: Rockey, Rocky, Roche, Rache, Rake...
9. I am humbled at the courage and resilence our ancestors possessed. I think it would be difficult to move too far from my family, yet our ancestors crossed oceans and left families thousands of miles behind. I know I will see my family again and can talk to them daily, but our ancestors left knowing they would never meet their families ever again.
10. Researching my family tree has helped me realize how I fit into the American experience. My family has played a major role in virtually every major period in American history - from the Salem Witch Trials to the immigration movement of the 1800's to Civil War.

Ten Blogs Making Ancestors Proud
The Educated Graveyard Rabbit - Sheri Fenley
The We Tree Genealogy Blog - Amy Coffin
A Linguist's Guide to Genealogy - Andrew Simpson
Creative Gene - Jasia

Graveyard Rabbit of Sandusky Bay - Dorene
Stueben County Indiana: Through The Years - Steuben County Public Library
Williams County, Ohio Genealogy - Pamela Pattison Lash
Gravestoned - pugbug
A Rootdigger
Genealogy Roots Blog - Joe Beine

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

South Carolina - 1931

Della Cora Hawkins and her son, George Douglas
Atkins in Spartanburg County, South Carolina,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Confederate Tombstones

Many men joined the Army soon after the outbreak of the Civil War. Four such brothers were John Stone and Tabitha Fletcher's sons: Thomas Alexander Stone (my husband's great-great-great grandfather), John Harmon Stone, James Fletcher Stone, and Samuel Miller Stone.

All four brothers fought for the Confederacy in Virginia, serving in Company D, 28th Virginia Infantry; J.D. Smith's Company, Virginia Light Artillery; Company I, 34th Regiment, Virginia Infantry, and Capt. Turner's Company, Virginia Light Artillery.

Two of the brothers have military tombstones: John Harmon and James Fletcher.

The iron crosses in front of the each tombstone are Daughter of the Confederacy grave markers. It is a symbol of the Southern Cross of Honor, which was a military decoration meant to honor the soldiers for their brave service in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. It was formally approved by the Congress of the Confederates States on October 13, 1862, and was originally intended to be on par with the Union Army's Medal of Honor.

Monday, November 29, 2010

William Rogers - Union Soldier

William Rogers, my great-great-great grandfather on my mother's side, served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. He enlisted as a Private on 24 Aug 1861 and was place in Company K of the 11th Michigan Infantry.

During William's enlistment, the main duty of the 11th Michigan Infantry consisted of guard duty along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (also referred to as the L&N; the L&N spanned the Union and Confederate lines and served both sides as the war fronts changed). The soldiers were marched to Bardstown, Kentucky, about 50 miles southeast of Louisville.

William received a disability discharge on 03 Jun 1862, having served a total of less than 10 months. According to the Record of service of Michigan volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865, of the 1,323 men enlisted in the 11th Infantry, 265 (or 20%) were discharged due to disabilty or disease.

All of the documentation available during a cursory search on, indicated that William's only service was with the 11th Michigan Infantry. However, when reviewing his record in the Civil War Pension Index available on, I discovered that he had additional service under Company H of the 28th Michigan Infantry.

William re-enlisted as a private on 08 Aug 1864 and was promoted to Second Lieutenant on 26 Aug 1864. As a Second Lieutenant, William would have been third in command of a company and may have had his own platoon to command, as well. During his second stint with the Union Army, he saw much action, including the Battle of Nashville, fighting the Confederate forces of Gen. John Bell Hood. It was one of the largest Union victories of the war.

The Civil War officially ended on 09 Apr 1865 when Lee surrendered to Grant and William Rogers resigned his post soon thereafter on 08 Jun 1865.