Friday, April 15, 2011

Genealogy Search on Ancestry.com

My cousin Suzanne got me thinking about my family heritage sometime last year.  As we began re-connecting and acquainting ourselves and our families, a common bond was certainly our shared legacy and family history.  She has done some wonderful and extensive work on Ancestry.com, tracing our Cornish family back to the earliest days of America at Plymouth.  With the passing of my grandmother last week, and a visit to family grave sites in Muskogee, Oklahoma, my curiosity was re-stoked as I got busy updating the maternal side of my family tree.  The data available online is quite extraordinary really.  To date, I have traced the Parker family line all the way back into the 1200’s, when King Richard II deeded property to a monk named Robert LaParker.  There are still plenty of leads to follow up on, and items to analyze, but the initial findings are amazing.  Interestingly enough, finding the details of the family from abroad, even dating back several centuries proved far more reliable than some of the more recent family facts from the last century or two. 
Here is a bit about what I have learned in my own search, I am sure most families boast such a wide range of personalities and character.  I found several faithful ministers, and I found more than a few deadbeats and scoundrels.  I also found at least one deadbeat scoundrel minister.  I found college educated, white collar professionals and self-educated entrepreneurs.  I found hard working blue collar workers and farmers.  I found men who fought honorably in Vietnam, World War II, World War I, both sides of the Civil War, and the American Revolution.  I also found record of at least one resident of Fort Leavenworth, which leads me suspect there was some less than honorable military service.  I also found lots of men and women who served in our nation’s military during peace time.  I found bleeding heart liberals, along with crooked and greedy conservatives.  I found wealthy landowners and hard-time farmers.  I found women forced from their home during wars and Indian raids, while their husbands and fathers were off fighting.  I found family in the Cherokee Indian rolls that indicate their birth was in the Cherokee Nations of present day South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.  Their death occurred in the Oklahoma Indian Territory, alluding to their “immigration” along the Trail of Tears.  Immigration was, I thought, an interesting word and perspective used to describe the Trail of Tears in official documentation. 
I didn’t find a key to the Rockefeller estate, or my long missing account number and PIN to untold fortunes.  But what I did find was a connection to a family that I would characterize as tenacious.  I saw stories time and time again of rebuilding from the curve balls that life can throw.  Forced moves across country, away from a home that had been in the family for several generations was not the end of the story, it was just another chapter.  Indian raids on the homestead in Fort Gibson, while brothers and fathers were fighting against each other in the Civil War, was not the end of the story.  That chapter was a 4 year span of time that altered the histories of more than one family.  Likewise military victories during the World Wars were chapters that shaped men and women who poured their lives into the family when they returned from battle. 
On a broader sociological perspective, I see stories of families who fought untimely illnesses and social injustice.  I saw men who abandoned their wives, and women who were unfaithful to their husbands.  I also saw an inner-determination to make “their” family better than the generation before them.  I saw men forsake their hard fought personal freedoms to become slaves to debt and professional endeavors.  I also see amazing compassion and generosity.  I see faithful service and I see loving fathers.  In reality, I see that life centuries ago was not all that different than today after all.  The technologies are newer, and the world may be smaller, but life has not changed so much.   Throughout it all, because of the family tree structure of Ancestry.com, it becomes obvious that the key to survival and success was family.  Certainly brothers and sisters, parents and children have been bickering and arguing for centuries, but the truth is that the family moves forward, the line continues.  For me, it has made for some pretty cool personal discoveries, and I am sure I will enjoy the process of uncovering more.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A day in the Tulsa Parks

Because the trip to Tulsa was such a long drive with the girls in the truck, it was important to us to have a few days to spend in Tulsa.  The last thing I wanted to do was pack up the girls for a 8-9 hour drive up there, go to Mema's funeral and then just turn around and head home.  The extra day or so before and after the funeral gave us a chance to drive around, see some of the old haunts and also take in a beautiful spring day in the parks of Tulsa.  Tulsa really is a pretty city, and I have great memories from growing up in Tulsa, particularly parks like Woodward and La Fortune. 

Woodward Park is a beautiful park full of seasonal gardens.  This park is almost always packed with people getting their wedding, engagement, senior or prom portraits done.  Its a little bit early in the spring there, but we did get some nice pictures of the dogwoods, azaleas and tulips in bloom.  This park is definitely a city treasure, a crown jewel for the Parks and Recreation department. 

La Fortune Park is another awesome Tulsa park.  This park isn't as beautifully landscaped as Woodward, but it more than makes up for it with its all out play space.  There are tons of playscapes, a pool, a golf course and a jogging trail that is unrivaled in Tulsa.  Throw in the ball fields and its easy to see why so many families make a use of great spring days by spending it at La Fortune Park.

Another picture that I put in this album is a picture of my Mema and Pa's home in Tulsa for many years, on the corner of 24th and Cincinnati, it really is a gorgeous house.  There are so many great memories at this old home.  One of my favorites was after Mema retired from Amoco, Mema and Pa took a vacation to Hawaii.  It was one of the rare trips where dollies didn't go with them.  When they returned, we had the whole family together at this house.  They had purchased matching Hawaiian shirts and shorts for all the boys and muumuus for all the girls.  We took a group family picture on the circular steps leading to the front door.  The current owners clearly have taken exceptional care of it, maintaining its stately beauty and architectural integrity. 

It was obviously a bittersweet trip to Tulsa.  We were determined to take the opportunity to enjoy renewed relationships with family my girls had never met before, and enjoy some of the best parts of my memories of Tulsa.  It was a great reminder to use the opportunities God gives us and to make sure we find a smile and giggle for each and every tear we shed.  I don't think anyone is ever really ready to let go of their grandmother, but I think she would have been proud of the way we invested our time during the trip.  These are just a few of the pics we took, there are several more if you check out our photo album link from the toolbar at the right.










Friday, April 8, 2011

Mema's Dollies - A Eulogy for Lahoma Parker


You don’t reach the age of 87 without passing a few milestones along the way.  God chooses all women to bear the title “daughter”, and of those, many women bear the title of “sister”.  Mema took pride in the way she doted over her siblings.  The women in this family have an inner strength that supports a very strong backbone.  If you haven’t heard the opinion of a Chapman woman, then chances are you are both blind and deaf, or at the very least, several counties away.

It was a special day, September 10th, 1941, on the banks of the Truckee River in Reno, Nevada that Mema gained a new title and a new name.  Lahoma Chapman, at the young age of 20, was now Mrs. John Parker.  This little girl had gone from “daughter” to “sister” to “wife”.  To be the bride of John Elder Parker was an honor that my Mema clung to for her entire life.  I fully expect that on Monday afternoon, April 4th 2011, when Mema entered the gates of Heaven,  St. Peter was merely the maitre d’, and as far as Mema was concerned, she was late for her dance.  It has been more than 21 years since Pa passed away, and I never could have imagined that she would ever have to live so long without him.  I can’t help but think that Pa sure better have been busy these last 20 years or so building one amazing place, on just the right street of gold, with the perfect view of the Crystal Sea, or Mema will have a yellow pad and ballpoint pen hard at work today.  It seems to me that everything that she did and everything that she said was somehow rooted in her relationship with Pa. 

While Pa was serving his country as a young Marine during World War II, Mema picked up a new title.  The daughter, turned sister, turned wife was now a mother.  From all accounts I have ever heard Mema was a very good mother.  She clearly loved her children.  Mema could be tough as nails, and I am sure not every day was a stroll through the park. 

I have been blessed to experience a few of these rites of passage, growing up in a wonderful family, getting married and having children.  But I cannot fathom the joy she must have felt when she stepped from motherhood into “grand” motherhood.  The title “Mema” was universal my whole life.  I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know who first uttered it, but that was her name.  And as the number of grandchildren grew, then came the numbering.  Ask Tracy which dolly she is.  Ask Amy.  Ask Scott or Missy, or Tina or John or Keri… we all know our numbers.  Because to be a dolly, was a treat, it’s a title we share and treasure.  Sure, when I was a little boy, it seemed a bit feminine.  When you are 8 going on 17, you don’t REALLY want your Mema to call you “dolly”, but that too is its own rite of passage. 

As grandchildren of Mema and Pa, we all knew collectively and individually that we were loved.  We were cherished.  We were a source of unspeakable pride.  Recently, when Mema got so ill that she had to be hospitalized, I got to visit her twice.  On my first visit, I was with Tracy; Mom and Missy had prepared us well for what we would see.  This particular bladder infection and the lack of nourishment had really taken a toll on Mema and she wasn’t speaking much, if at all.  It was hard to see her this way, and I am eternally thankful that this will not be the way I remember my Mema.  But on this visit, before I left, I made a point to tell her how much I loved her, and how I knew that she loved me.  I knew because she had shown me and all of us how much she loved us our entire lives.  Whether it was a sleepover at Mema’s house, which usually consisted of a baked potato dinner, and a TV line up of Hee Haw, Dukes of Hazzard, and Dallas (with a cup of Sugar Smacks or a Pa cookie for a snack), or when she came to a school function, or one of the frequent and way too long phone conversations, I knew my Mema loved me.  Pa may have built “The Farm”, on the banks of the Illinois River to be their retirement house, but for Mema, if there wasn’t going to be bunkhouse for the dollies, and enough stored water to wash a months-worth of clothes, then it was just a useless plot of land.  I also doubt that Mema or Pa could truly find an RV useful if they couldn’t take their dollies.  I know it was those trips growing up that put the travel bug in me, and a big reason I convinced my own bride that we “needed” our travel trailer. 

Something I am exceedingly proud of is that in Mema’s final days, all of her dollies were accounted for, front and center at Mema’s bedside.  And with that, Mema, who has not been able to travel in many years, had also now met every single one of her dollies’ dollies.

From my seat, the view that I have of Mema  I can’t think of anything that she took more joy or pleasure in than family.  I can’t think of a time where she failed to come to a family member’s aid when it was needed.  Whether it was taking care of children, caring for the infirmed or raising cane with a doctor, nurse or administrator if someone she loved was not being taken care of, family was central to her.  Has anybody else ever heard her say “I am so mad, I could spit nickels!”?  As a kid, I never had any idea of what that meant, but I often wondered how many of them nickels I could gather up if I got to watch just once!  But even at a young age, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to see that.  How many pens and yellow pads did this woman go through over the years? 
 
Watching her, she taught me how to love my girls, my siblings and my parents.  Listening to her, she taught me the colorfulness of our family heritage.  I also saw what it can look like when one man loves one woman and spends a lifetime creating a bond that transcends our earthly realm and renews hope in our future in Heaven.  She is my Mema, and I will always be Dolly #3.