Week 24: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Grandma’s family journal

Ancestor of the Week: Nancy Sue (Musler) Hays (1935-2006) [My paternal grandmother]
Prompt of the Week: Dear Diary


Nancy as a child in the 1940s.

I have written about my grandma Nancy before, but she fit this week’s topic as well. She’s the only ancestor I can think of, or that I know of, who wrote something close to a diary. In 1999, she started a notebook that was intended to be information about various people in her family. She wrote out a few pages detailing her childhood – where she lived and who she lived with, what schools and churches she went to, etc. Her dad died when she was six years old and she and her mom, my great-grandma Jo, at various times lived with Jo’s parents and siblings. She even remembered actual addresses of some of the homes. Her favorite place was apparently on her uncle Ted’s farm in Kentucky where they lived in a little wooden house. This would have been in the mid to late 1940s, and I can imagine rural life during and after wartime was not easy for the adults. She continued on writing about being a church pianist as a teenager, working as a soda jerk, and how she met my grandfather on a blind date set up by mutual friends. She wrote briefly about his service in the Coast Guard in Boston and their comings and goings until their first child, my dad, was born.

She also wrote a few pages about my grandfather’s childhood – where he lived and went to school and worked as a young adult. She wrote one page about her grandmother May (Robinson) Harper, my 2x great-grandmother, including the names of her siblings and what she remembered about them. She started a page about her grandfather John Harper, but only got as far as his birth and death dates. I wish she would have written more, of course, as I know she had a wealth of information about her mom’s side of the family. She told a lot of stories about them, and I do remember some, but I am grateful to have what she did write. She was very intentional about preserving family memories, and I am very thankful.

Grandma's Family Notes_Page_01

The intro to the notebook.

Grandma's Family Notes_Page_05

First page of Nancy’s writings about herself.

Grandma's Family Notes_Page_10

Page about Nancy’s grandmother May (Robinson) Harper’s family.


Week 23: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Winfield Scott Musler

Ancestor of the Week: Winfield Scott Musler (1847-1892) [My 3x great-grandfather]
Prompt of the Week: Namesake

Mary & Robert Musler

Winfield’s second wife Mary (Baldorf) Musler and his youngest son Robert Winfield Musler, photo courtesy of Sandy Willis

My 3x great-grandfather, Winfield Scott Musler was born in Fayette, Missouri in 1847 to German immigrant parents John (Johann) Philip Musler, and his wife Magdalina. His three older siblings have American names, but are not notable, at least that I’m aware of. I can imagine that John and Magdalina read about the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), which was widely reported about in newspapers across the country, even in their local paper, the Boon’s Lick Times (gotta love that name!). So I’m sure the notoriety of General Winfield Scott‘s command of the U.S. Army influenced their decision to name their son after him, who was born right smack in the middle of the war.

Winfield Scott Musler went on to live a much different life than his namesake’s, but nonetheless very interesting. From the research I have done, I discovered that he lived in St. Louis and worked in a photography studio (yet I have no photos of him, darn it), and alternately as a bartender in his father’s saloon. He also for a time worked as a hotel clerk, and finally as an “engineer.” He had two sons with his first wife Emma, who divorced him and apparently disappeared. He married again, but died only six months later when he was painting a barge docked in the Mississippi River, and fell into the river and drowned. His obituary says that he had already fallen in twice and was pulled out, even though he was a good swimmer, but the third time he somehow drowned. His son with his second wife was born three months later. He his buried in an unmarked grave in an old cemetery in St. Louis.

Winfield Scott Muslr death register

Winfield’s death as recorded in the St. Louis death register, May 2, 1892. From Ancestry.com

Week 22: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – A great little cemetery in Red Bluff, and I’m not bluffing!

Ancestors of the Week: Burials in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Red Bluff, California. [My wife’s ancestors and relatives]
Prompt of the Week: At the Cemetery


St. Mary’s Cemetery in Red Bluff, Tehama County, California. Several of the graves we visited are in the frame.

We were on a road trip in Redding, California, (for the funeral of my wife’s great-grandmother) and on the way home to Arizona, we stopped in Red Bluff, a small town on I-5 where several of my wife’s ancestors and other relatives are buried. St. Mary’s Cemetery is a small Catholic cemetery located just a few blocks off the freeway. It was April, so the spring weather was nice, and by the time we got there, the kids were sleeping in the van, so a short detour didn’t bother them. I had researched the family enough to know who was buried there, and I had seen a couple photos from Find-A-Grave, so I kind of knew what type of headstones I was looking for – but I wanted to visit and photograph them for myself. And my wife was interested too, since it was her family. I first looked for the tall white stone monument for her 2x great-grandfather Antone Alvares (1883-1916). I figured that would be the easiest to spot – but I did take me a while because to my surprise there were many similar monuments! When I found it, I noticed on the other side was the name and dates for a daughter, Mary Cecelia, we didn’t know about, who died at age four, the day after her father. She was the older sister of my wife’s great-grandmother. We came across several other interesting headstones, even one for my wife’s 3x great-grandfather George Tierney (1844-1906), who served in the Civil War. Some of the other relatives we found were George’s wife Mary Elizabeth (1849-1913), and another set of 3x great-grandparents, Manuel and Maria Alvares, who were Portuguese immigrants from the Azores, who have a beautiful white cross monument. Next time we drive through, I’ll have to revisit the stones and add all the GPS coordinates, and look for any relatives we may have missed. But overall it’s a beautiful small, old cemetery – full of well-kept family heritage.


Grave of Mary Cecelia Alvares (1912-1916)


Grave of George Thomas Michael Tierney (1844-1906), veteran of the Civil War


Grave of Mary Elizabeth (Lundy) Tierney (1849-1913), wife of George, and Irish immigrant


Grave of Manuel (1850-1920) and Maria (Goncalves) Alvares (1854-1928), Portuguese immigrants from the Azores

Week 21: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Coasties in the family

Ancestor of the Week: Lester George Hays, Jr. (1935-2011) [My paternal grandfather]
Prompt of the Week: Military


My grandfather Les Hays on his ship.


My grandfather on the ship out at sea.

My grandfather Les Hays served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1956-1957. (Actually he was in the reserves for a year before, in 1955) He was stationed in Boston, Mass. and was assigned to the ship USCGC Humboldt during his service. He was dating my grandma at the time and he came home to St. Louis for the wedding, and after their honeymoon at Niagara Falls, she went with him back to Boston. From the stories he told, it seems his time in the Coast Guard was fairly uneventful. We do have a box full of letters that he exchanged with my grandma while he was away, but we haven’t really gone through and read them all. Some of the letters are ones my grandma exchanged with her mom during that time. One of the stories I remember my grandpa telling is how he was getting off the ship for leave, and news of the collision involving the ocean liner SS Andrea Doria off the coast of Massachusetts caused the officers to ask if anyone wanted to stay and help with the rescue efforts, but he declined and went on his leave to spend time with my grandma. Imagine if he had gone to help, what an interesting story that would have been! He did have a regular camera and video camera with him on the ship and we have many photos of him at work and at liberty, that he would send home with little captions on the back. The video footage we have shows him and his shipmates out at sea, and on their visit to Bermuda. It must have been 8 mm film, because it has no sound. My grandpa had all their old video reels transferred to DVD several years before he passed away, and he must have thrown out the original reels, as we never located them when we cleaned out the house. The transfer is good though and I have edited some clips together to share with family. Besides the Coast Guard footage, there is some of my dad as a baby and small child, along with his younger sister.


When us grandkids were growing up he didn’t talk a whole lot about his time in the Coast Guard, just a few stories now and then, but in his later years, he would wear Coast Guard baseball caps, patches, and had a bumper sticker on his pickup truck.

My brother joined the Coast Guard in 2009, and I’m sure he was inspired by our grandpa’s service in that particular branch. When my wife and I, and my parents attended my brother’s Coast Guard boot camp graduation in Cape May, NJ, it was interesting to see it as the place where our grandpa trained as well, 50-something years later.

USCGC Humboldt

A photo my grandpa had of his ship, the USCGC Humboldt.


One of three “Plan of the Day” sheets we found in my grandpa’s papers. Not sure of the significance of the particular days he saved, but I imagine these weren’t held on to very long by most guys on the ship.

Week 20: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – from Farmer Jesse Thurston to the Crazy Plant Lady

Ancestor of the Week: Jesse Thurston (1868-1933) [My 2x great-grandfather]
Prompt of the Week: Nature

Jesse Thurston

Jesse Thurston

My 2x great-grandfather Jesse Thurston was a farmer in eastern and Indiana for his entire adult life, and he even grew up with his father as a farmer. That’s probably where he learned the trade. I don’t know a whole lot about him, but he had a wife and 10 children that lived to adulthood, who still got together for reunions for many years after his and his wife’s passing. Jesse died in 1933, when my grandfather and his older sister were very young, so I doubt there is anyone alive today who really remembers him, or what his farm was like, or even what crops he grew. He had more than 10 grandchildren at the time of his death, and I believe he must have instilled a great sense of family togetherness. The family reunion we had a few months ago is probably the product of that as well, even though we are now several generations removed.

A fun artifact my grandfather has is this photo of Jesse and others with a large grain threshing machine back on the farm in Indiana. He still has the whistle displayed from that exact implement in his home today. It’s such an interesting connection when you can touch an object that appeared in such an old photo, it really brings the past to life.


The grain threshing machine


Whistle from the grain thresher. Apparently it is very loud when hooked up to an air compressor and blown!

Another connection to nature is with Jesse’s son Everett C. Thurston (my great-grandfather). He was a farmer as well for a time back in Indiana. My grandfather shared a memory with me about his dad having a garden on their farm in Indiana to make extra money. He sold plants (cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes) and would use manure from neighbors’ farms to fertilize and keep the soil soft so he could pull up the plants with the roots intact. He would wrap the roots in wet newspaper to keep them moist, so they could be sold.

Maybe that’s where my cousin, who has a career in the plant nursery business, gets her love of plants. She likes to call herself a “crazy plant lady.” 🙂

Week 19: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Grandma to all

Ancestor of the Week: Nancy Sue (Musler) Hays (1935-2006) [My paternal grandmother]
Prompt of the Week: Nurture

45 Nancy

Portrait of Nancy from the 1950s

This week I’m writing about my Grandma Nancy. There’s so much I could say about her, but I’ll keep it short and sweet and focus on the topic of ‘nurturing.’ She was an amazing grandmother who invested so much into the lives of everyone she knew. Her passions were her family, friends, church, music, and Christian faith.

She was a talented pianist and used her gifts in church music ministry for more than 50 years. All seven of us grandkids took piano lessons from her at one time or another. I think I stuck with it the longest though. We all grew up spending a lot of time at her and my grandpa Les’ house, and at our family cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona. One of our favorite ways to spend time together was playing board games and working on jigsaw puzzles. I know that all of us will cherish those memories forever, along with all the holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas in particular. We would always have a big family gathering with lots of food and fun and presents. Even to people who weren’t her family, she was Grandma Nancy. She was an only child who lived far away from her home town of St. Louis for most of her adult life, but she always kept in contact with her aunts, cousins and extended family members back in Missouri.

I am also thankful that she was intentional about preserving our family history. I remember her telling stories about her grandparents and older relatives, and she saved poems, letters, cards, and many (many!) photos, and even took the time to label a decent amount of the older ones. She wrote a few pages in a notebook about her life growing up, some info about a few relatives, and about my grandpa’s early years.

She was one of the most nurturing people I have even known, and I know there are many people who miss her greatly.


Grandma Nancy – Christmas 1999

Week 18: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Miles on a Rhoades Trip

Ancestor of the Week: Miles Rhoades (1797-1866) [My 4th great-grandfather]
Prompt of the Week: Road Trip


Portrait of Miles Rhoades, probably taken in the 1860s – copy sent to me by a distant cousin

My 4th great-grandfather’s name is very appropriate for the journey he and his family took from North Carolina to Indiana. I found a brief description of his trek in a book called Morrow’s History of Howard County Indiana Vol. 2 by Jackson Morrow, 1909 on Archive.org. It says they traveled with their children and all their possessions in a one-horse cart in a seven-week journey across the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was about 600 miles by my estimation, and once they arrived in eastern Indiana, they stopped the cart and Miles walked by himself to the land they were to settle. The year was about 1829, which I deduced from the birth dates and places of their children. Miles and his wife Margaret retired to Howard County, Indiana in 1860.

I love the description of the couple in Morrow’s book. The language of the time was much more descriptive and creative. It states, “They were people of the most sterling qualities, of the true and typical pioneer type, who braved the dangers and vicissitudes of a new country under the most unfavorable advantages, but they surmounted all obstacles and established a comfortable home.”

I can only imagine the toughness it took to set off on that journey, probably with not much more than a rutted path to follow, with a young family and all their worldly possessions in a wooden cart, to an unknown place with probably wild and uncleared land to live on. Roughing it to the extreme! It really makes me appreciate the ease of our lives now, and if not for the tenacity and hard work put in by our ancestors, we would not be where we are today.

Side Note: Miles’ father Cornelius mentions in his application for a Revolutionary War pension that his birth was recorded in the family Bible, which had been taken by his son Miles to Indiana. It probably made that long journey bouncing around in their wooden cart, but who knows where it ended up, or if it still exists today. Wouldn’t that be an awesome find some day!?


Portrait of Miles Rhoades, probably taken in the 1860s – copy sent to me by a distant cousin