Cheers for 100 Years! Florence Van Pelt and Jesse Bartoo

I couldn’t let the day pass without heralding the wedding of my great-great grandparents, Florence Van Pelt and Jesse Bartoo, who married on February 28, 1914—one hundred years ago today!

bartoo vanpelt marriage license

According to Betty A. Bertrand’s genealogy, “Sam’s Clan” on the descendants of Samuel Baker:

JESSE WILBUR BARTOO, third child of Smith and Rosa Baker Bartoo, was born at Marsh Creek on 11 May 1894. He attended schools at Whitesville; a county school near Whites Corners, Pa., and in Harrison Valley.

On 28 February 1914, he was married to Florence Van Pelt. She was born 4 February 1896 to William and Rhoda Cole Van Pelt. Between 1916 and 1924, they became parents of two boys and two girls.

Jesse and Florence lived near Whites Corners, Harrison Valley, Osceola, and then at Elkland where Jesse worked at the Tannery. Following his retirement from there, he always raised a large garden which he shared with his daughters and his friends.

On 3 November 1972, Jesse died at the Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Wellsboro, Pa. Five weeks later, Florence died in the same hospital. Both are buried at Whites Corners Cemetery.

Florence Vanpelt & Jesse Bartoo Wedding

Shortly after they married, they both took positions at the Whitesville House (Source: Allegany County News, Thursday March 26, 1914, via, which was a popular hotel in Allegany County. I’ve been told that Florence worked as a cook in a restaurant when she was young, but I don’t know if that tidbit refers to her time at the Whitesville House. It seems likely.

The Whitesville House. (Photo from The Whitesville News, Thursday October 17, 1907, via

The Whitesville House. (Photo from The Whitesville News, Thursday October 17, 1907, via

As it happens, today also marks 50 years since they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary! The Bartoos were very giving, always making sure their grandchildren left after a visit with some little gift in hand. Jesse was in the running to be my name, had I been born a boy.

Florence & Jesse Bartoo 50 yrs

Here’s to you, Jesse and Florence! Cheers!

Friday Funny: Heinemann rushes secret bread; censor scandalized!

Occasionally I have wondered if anti-German sentiment during and between the World Wars impacted my Heinemanns. They arrived in 1851–children who became old men in the United States. When the world stage heated up, did they get burned?

It’s hard to imagine the discovery that would answer that question definitively…

Dedicated research sometimes means combing through endless pages (or PDFs) without knowing what you’re looking for. And when you don’t know what you’re looking for, a good find is basically whatever you want it to be.

That’s why this piece, while it’s nothing to do with me, still counts.

William Heinemann

Richmond times-dispatch. (Richmond, Va.), 20 May 1917.
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.
Lib. of Congress.

Too good not to share, no? If you’re curious about the book at the center of this “controversy,” you can read it on Google Books here!

(I do have a William Heinemann in my family tree, as a matter of fact. Sadly, he wasn’t the one who was a famous publisher. Rats.)

Stories Begin with Questions by Sydney Avey

The Sheep Walker's DaughterToday I’m hosting author Sydney Avey, whose novel The Sheep Walker’s Daughter (HopeSprings Books) came out on December 3, 2013.

A Korean War widow’s difficult mother dies before revealing the identity of Dee’s father. As Dee sorts through what little her mother left, she unearths puzzling clues that raise even more questions: Why did Leora send money every month to the Basque Relief Agency? Why is Dee’s own daughter so secretive about her soon-to-be published book? And what does an Anglican priest know that he isn’t telling? The Sheep Walker’s Daughter pairs a colorful immigrant history of loss, survival, and tough choices with one woman’s search for spiritual and personal fulfillment.

Welcome, Sydney!

Stories Begin with Questions

Why do families keep secrets from their closest family members?  Is it important to know your family heritage? These are the questions posed in my novel, The Sheep Walker’s Daughter.

Ancestry, religion, and community provide the context for the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.  My main character Dee lacks all three. Her sense of disconnection and isolation is profound.  Not knowing the identity of her father or the people he came from is the result of decisions her mother made, but her isolation is self-imposed. Where does that come from?

The stories people tell down through the generations allow parents to identify family characteristics—ones they want to preserve and pass on, and ones they might want to root out.  In my case, I remember hearing, “We come from a family of strong women.”  Of course I wanted to pass this sense of identity down to my daughter and granddaughter.  We also have a rich vein of imagination that has produced talented writers, as well as dissemblers who have used cutting wit to deflect attention to character flaws. Over time, this is behavior that can crust over into mean-spiritedness. If you know how that played out in great-grandma’s life, you might want to have some cautionary tales in your repertoire when you see history beginning to repeat itself in your children.

The spiritual journey of a middle-aged woman with no religious upbringing was another topic I wanted to explore.  What would it be like to come to faith when you’ve made it halfway through your life without seriously asking the question, “Does God exist and what does that mean to me?”  I wanted to walk with Dee, and watch her heart grow as she began to experience God amid all the distractions of life.

Father Mike, an Anglican priest, pops up early in my story. I’ve known a few Father Mikes in my life, wise, patient people who have a good sense of timing and know when to ask just the right question to break through the strongholds we build up against the pain of life.

Dee is given an opportunity to discover her roots, find faith, and let new people into her life. But all good stories have a dark side. She will have to battle her own demons and her feelings of betrayal.

My story is set in the 1950s, but Dee is not June Cleaver. She is a reluctant military wife, a single mother for all practical purposes, and a career woman in a man’s world.  She will need to make a fresh start on all those fronts.

Father Mike does not feed her mind with answers. Instead, he encourages her heart to see the questions. Each question is spiritual exercise that challenges Dee to do hard things that are only possible when we open the door to our hearts.

Father Mike encourages Dee to ask God her biggest, toughest question and then be on watch for the answer. Nothing builds faith like receiving an answer to a life-changing question. When Isaac carried the wood he would shortly be placed upon, bound for a sacrifice, he asked his father Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  His life depended on his Father’s answer.

There is power in directing your most heartfelt question to the One who has the answers.


Nothing builds faith like receiving an answer to a life changing question.

Ancestry, religion, and community provide the context for the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

About the Author

sydauthorphoto_smallSydney Avey lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Yosemite, California, and the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and a lifetime of experience writing news for non profits and corporations. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Foliate Oak, Forge, American Athenaeum, and Unstrung (published by Blue Guitar Magazine). She has studied at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Sydney blogs at on topics related to relationships, legacy, faith, and the writing life.

Connect with her via email, her website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

The Sheep Walker’s Daughter is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Birthday, Walt Disney!

Walt Disney

The Walt Disney commemorative 6-cent stamp, issued 1968.

Happy 112th birthday, Walter Elias “Walt” Disney! Only 23 years and 10 days left to your copyrights–that is, the ones that won’t enter the public domain before then.

Let me back up for a moment. You know that wonderfully weird phenomenon, when you become interested in a subject and it suddenly crops up everywhere? For me and Old Hollywood, it’s on.

Back to Mr. Disney. Imagining for a moment that he did not have a massive multinational corporate standing guard of his legacy, current law allows that his works are protected for his lifetime (which ended December 15, 1966) plus 70 years. Can you imagine, if on December 15, 2036, the Disney spell was broken? And those works which “should have” entered public domain but were granted extensions of copyright protection will begin entering the public domain in 2019 (unless the law is changed again).

Disney Magic Kingdom

Somehow, a 2036 release of “The Copyright Curse” seems unlikely at best.

I’m still understanding all the perspectives, but I’m mixed on this issue.

  • As a writer, I believe I should be in control of my intellectual property–including the decision of who should control it when I’m gone.
  • As a genealogy enthusiast, I have benefited from photographs and documents in the public domain–including the ability to legally reproduce them on this very blog from time to time.
  • As a fan of capitalism, I see no reason a privately-owned, in-demand product should be wrested from the hands of its owner at any time.
  • As a fan of culture, I roll my eyes at my inner-capitalist and suggest she go enjoy her Dover edition of Selected Poems of John Donne (list price: $1.00).

It’s a sticky issue, and one that will probably build buzz in the next few years. I’d love to hear your perspective.

Question for you: When should a copyrighted work go into the public domain, and why do you thinks so?

P.S.— In my last post, I mentioned a plan to move email subscriptions to another service provider. Unfortunately, I hit a snag and I won’t be making changes for now. Just trying to keep you my lovely readers in the know. 

A “Tail” of Blogging Woe

It’s like this.

Off the wagon. Also, shout-out to my blogging neighbors. :)

Off the wagon. Also, shout-out to my blogging neighbors. :)

I actually have an editorial calendar for my blog, but I got off schedule, because

Somebody wanna draw the curtains? :P

Somebody wanna draw the curtains? :P

And the book is even a little ahead of schedule! I’m having a blast writing this one. It’s

NaNoWriMo? Nah. No. Write... less.

NaNoWriMo? Nah. No. Write… less.

Only problem is, my writing schedule and blogging editorial calendar aren’t meshing well.

Ease-play end-say elp-hay and-ay atnip-cay.

And then there’s the cat to consider. Kidding. Sort of.

I’m considering a couple of changes to my blog. First, maybe switching from a supposedly-Tuesdays schedule to a once-or-twice weekly schedule so I can play along with all the great Geneabloggers prompts. Second, I’m thinking of changing to MailChimp to service email subscribers, mainly because as I understand it, you’d have flexibility to receive posts in digest form if desired, so I don’t seem spammy if I post three times in one week. (I really hate feeling like a nuisance.) What say you, readers?

PS–My cat really did glare at me over the top of the screen this week. It was very… expressive. »^¤^«

The Importance of Story in Genealogy by Heather Day Gilbert

God's Daughter--a Viking historical novelOne Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to North America.

In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a voyage to North America.

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart.

Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America.

Today I’m delighted to have my friend Heather Day Gilbert at the helm to tell us about the family story tradition that helped inspire her debut novel, God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga. Stories, like people, have roots. Welcome, Heather!

The Importance of Story in Genealogy

Genealogy links us to our ancestors, but it only goes as far as we’re willing to research it, right? It’s the actual stories of our relatives that won’t soon be forgotten. We might be able to trace our bloodline up the way a bit, but even more exciting is learning how our relatives lived.

I know my alleged relation to Eirik the Red fueled my desire to read everything about him I could get my hands on…to learn more about Thorvald, his son who died in North America from a native arrow. My maiden name would have been Thorvaldsen if my Great-Grandpa hadn’t changed it when he came over from Norway.

My research of Eirik’s family turned up some interesting characters–one of the most interesting to me was Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, Eirik’s daughter-in-law. She sailed with her husband to the New World, giving birth to the first recorded European baby on these shores. Gudrid is the main character in my recently released Viking historical novel, God’s Daughter.

If my Grandma Day hadn’t repeatedly told me about my Viking ancestry, would I have followed this route in my writing? Probably not. The funny thing is that my Grandma wasn’t the one related to the Vikings–it was my Grandpa, who died when I was five. She kept that love of family alive through her stories.

One of the stories she told was how my Great-Grandpa, from the upper-class (or even royalty?) in Norway, fell for my Great-Grandma, a Sami reindeer herder from Sweden. Supposedly he was all set to get married to someone of his class, and Great-Grandma showed up as a servant at some sort of party…and he promptly dropped his fiancee for her!

The Vikings also shared stories and passed them down–it’s how we got the Icelandic sagas, the stories I based my novel around. You can never know how accurate such stories are, but when archaeology or other discoveries back those stories up, you feel vindicated in believing them.

Just ask my kids about Vikings. They’ll groan, but they can tell you why Mom made them study them so much in homeschool–because they’re related. I wish I had more stories from my heritage to share–perhaps from the Cherokee (so hard to find documentation!), or from the Dutch or German side. I tell them how their Daddy is part Welsh, part English, and a little Shawnee.

In the end, I think the story traditions are just as important as tracing our bloodlines. Those stories create visual pictures in our children’s minds, pictures they can pass on to their children. Makes me want to share even more with them about my growing-up years…though I don’t have anything quite as dramatic as reindeer herding or plundering on my resume.

About the Author

Heather Day Gilbert, AuthorHeather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling her three children. Heather is the ACFW West Virginia Area Coordinator.

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert–Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Look for her Viking novel, God’s Daughter, on Amazon and Smashwords here.

Surname Saturday: The Secret Life of R. D. Witter (Oil City, Pennsylvania)

Do you have that one ancestor who doesn’t seem to have much of a story?

  • The one who stayed in one locale for a lifetime.
  • The one whose branch of your tree is eclipsed by more-fascinating parents or children.
  • The one who just isn’t very interesting.

I thought so too. Meet R. D. Witter.

Whitening by Witter

Like last Saturday’s look at the Rude family name, Witter seems to derive from multiple sources. According to the Internet Surname Database, the Old English to Middle English etymologies signify “white”–either a bleacher or whitewasher or a white-leather dresser. Ancestry bears out the former from the Middle Low German etymology (witten, i.e., to make white), which would refer to a painter or plaster. An occupational surname in either case, though the launderers, painters or leatherworkers passed out of memory and into legend at least six generations before Rufus David Witter (1841-1905) came on the scene.

Tweetable: R. D. Witter: Solid, Dependable, Boring…?

R. D. Witter was enumerated in Cattaraugus county, New York in every Federal census from 1860 until the end of his life. His name turned up in juror lists and Decoration Day committees, and he served as president of the Witter’s family organization which held reunions every year. Like his father-in-law, C. W. Rude, he was a civic-minded man, firmly established in Hinsdale, the town where his parents settled when he was 14 years old.

Except there are two records that don’t quite fit with this staid story. R. D. Witter’s name appears on two tax lists, one from July 1865 and another from May 1866, in Oil City, Venango, Pennsylvania. The first calls him a retail dealer, the second, a peddler.

Tweetable: The records beg the question–what did he want in Oil City PA?

Oil Creek PA, 1864

“Oil Creek, Pennsylvania”
published in The Art Journal, 1864.
(Image courtesy of

The April 7, 1864 edition of The Alleghenian gives us a snapshot of his time and world. (Though there are only two paragraphs in the original, I’ve broken it up for easier reading.)

“The editor of the Oil City Register, in closing the second volume of his weekly publication, thus refers to the improvements which have taken place in that vicinity within a short period:

It is now over two years since we first arrived in Oil City, with our press and materials, after a tedious journey in mid winter, over almost impassible roads, from Kittanning to this place. Oil City was then a town in the wilderness, consisting of little else than board shanties. The present immense Petroleum business was but fairly commencing.

With the first issue of the Oil City Register, our citizens organized a borough, and laid the foundation of the present flourishing city. The contrast between now and then is so great as to almost appear incredible. In these two short years the export of Petroleum to foreign countries has increased from about 7,000,000 to 28,000,000 gallons.

The home consumption has increased in like ratio. Oil City now numbers between four and five thousand inhabitants. Along the valley of Oil Creek, for a distance of twelve miles, an almost continuous town has sprung up as if by magic. We estimate the entire populations of Oil City and Oil Creek at from 12,000 to 15,000, which is daily increasing by fresh arrivals.

Two railroads tapping the Oil Region have been built, and several more are projected and under course of completion to this point. The marine fleet engaged in the oil trade has averaged about 500 oil boats and barges, besides some fifteen steamers. In a busy season, even this immense means of transportation has been found inadequate to the great and growing Petroleum trade.

There are now seventy-six refineries in this collectioned district, with an average capacity of from ten to three hundred barrels per day, and many more are building. Blocks of stylish and substantial dwellings and business houses now line our principal streets; one church has been built, and two more are in course of construction, as well as a commodious school house. From one well has been realized, so we are authentically informed, $1,000,000 during the past season.”

Tweetable: Show me the money, honey!

Natural Crude Oil Drilling Rig, Oil City, Pa.

Undated postcard.
Thomas, Photographer & Jobber, Warren PA.

So around age 24, R. D. Witter struck out on his own to find his fortune. On May 1, 1867, he married Anna Elizabeth Keller Rude (1843-1932) of Cuba, New York, suggesting (though not proving) that he returned home by that time. They made their home in Cattaraugus county, first in Portville and then back to Hinsdale.

I like to imagine he knew her before he left for Oil City. It’s more than possible; before they settled in Hinsdale, the Witters lived in Allegany county New York, not too far from the Kellers and Rudes. Maybe he went away to earn her hand. Maybe he promised to come back for her…

Ah. I’m such a romantic, I know.

Not so boring after all….

If you have a few “Old Reliables” in your tree, ancestors who seemed to live their whole lives in the same one-horse town, keep digging. Ten years between censuses is a long time.

I’ll bet they have secret stories too.