Wednesday, August 25, 2021

In Memory of Frederick Joseph Gibson 1926-2021

My grandpa, Fred Gibson, was born in Butte, Montana, on 20 February 1926. He was the only child of Frederick John Gibson and Augusta (Joseph) (Staffan) Gibson. His dad was 42 when Fred was born, and his mom was about 35. Fred was the first Gibson in our line born in the U.S., as his dad was born in Canada and his mother was German but born in Ukraine. He remembered learning German from his mother as a little boy, and could still count and remember some words many decades later. Augusta died just a few weeks before Fred turned 5. He lived with his maternal aunt and uncle Pat and Jack Walsh for a while after his mother's death, but when they invited him to join their Catholic church and he declined, the relationship soured. 

Fred at age 1

Fred's dad remarried a couple years later to Emma Kitzel, and brought with her Fred's only sibling, his step-sister Vera. She was 13 years older than Fred, so they didn't live together long, though they had occasional contact over the years until her death in the 1990s. 

Fred Sr., Emma, Vera, and Fred.

Fred, Charlie Wagner, and Howie Wagner

One of Fred's earliest memories was receiving a Flexible Flyer sled for Christmas when he was 7. He said that present made him as happy as he could be. He never had a bicycle until he was 14. When Fred was young, his family lived near his maternal grandfather, Samuel Joseph, as well as the Richters, relatives of his future wife Blossom Wagner. Blossom would come and visit her relatives sometimes, and Fred would come to see her. She was "too old for him" then, as she was 17 and he was 14. 

Fred on a train

Fred started working for the railroad when he was 14. He worked in various capacities, including brakeman, conductor, and switchman at Butte and Rocker. He didn't always work for the railroad; he once told me there was a time he worked trying to sell cemetery plots door to door, but that wasn't a very lucrative job. He worked for a while at the Wagner Bros. lumber mill with Blossom's father and uncles. But most of his professional life was spent working for the Northern Pacific Railroad, which he started in 1947. 

First page of Fred's train schedule from 1947

The U.S. entered World War II in 1941, and two years later was still heavily involved in the conflict. Two days after turning 17, Fred went to enlist and serve his country, originally intending to enlist in the Navy. A Marines recruiter saw him and yelled "Hey you big guy, come here." He must have been very persuasive, as Fred ended up enlisting with the Marines. During WWII, Fred certified as a rifle marksman, and also qualified to operate 90mm anti-aircraft machine guns and light trucks. He served in the Hawaiian Islands and Midway between 25 April 1943 and 22 April 1945. He was discharged at San Diego on 15 November 1945. 

Fred in 1943 at Kaneoh Bay

After returning home from the war, he again met Blossom, then widowed (her husband Tom Nelson was killed flying over Germany) and raising a daughter. They began dating, and decided to get married. Fred proposed to Blossom while he was flying them around in a small airplane. Blossom said "yes, if you can land this thing!" They were married on 19 November 1947 in Butte. 

Fred and Blossom on Carolina St. in Butte. 

Fred and Blossom went on to add four more children to their family. Their home was the cool home in the neighborhood, the one all the kids wanted to come and stay at. Their sons Dave and Randy both followed Fred's example and served in the military during the Vietnam War (both in the Navy). Their kids grew and added grandkids to their family, and Fred and Blossom made time for everyone. As their kids began moving away from Montana, Fred and Blossom took trips to visit them, as well as to take vacations around the world including Germany and Australia. Whenever they went on trips they always sent postcards and letters to their kids and grandkids. They remembered birthdays and sent cards and usually a few dollars to each of us. They knew how to make us feel remembered and special. 

Fred and his younger descendants in 2016

When the husband of one of Fred's cousins died in the 1980s, he left a sizable inheritance to Fred and his cousins. Fred and Blossom used the money to purchase a motorhome, which is how I remember them coming to visit my family when I was young. I remember one day when they came to visit, I was up in my room reading when suddenly there was a huge BOOM and the house shook! I ran outside to see what had happend, and it turned out grandpa had accidentally backed the motorhome into the house! We all had a good laugh, and still do when we tell the story. 

Fred and Blossom eventually sold the motorhome and bought a small home in Marysville, Washington, where they lived together for several years. They still called on birthdays and took trips to visit family, and family took trips to visit them. We had big reunions every now and then, in Idaho, in Montana, or just and their house. We loved seeing them, and they were always so cute together. Blossom called him "Freddie" and he called her "mother." They held hands when they walked together, and at my wedding, they were the couple who had been married the longest and were rightly honored as such. They teased each other sometimes too though. Once when I was telling grandma about her connection to European royalty, grandpa tried to interrupt with something, but grandma said "be quiet Freddie, I'm a princess!" 

Fred and Blossom in 1966

Fred was also very musical. He could play a lot of songs on the piano, some of which he taught to me and my sister, and he seemed to have a song for every occasion. Something always reminded him of a song, and he'd start singing it in that loud, boistrous voice of his. 

Blossom passed away very unexpectedly in January 2013. Fred talked often about how much he missed her, and it was hard to see him so sad. He kept right on living in their home, still driving himself where he needed to go, and still taking time to visit family. He still called on my birthday, and he remembered my kids' birthdays too. He had the sharpest memory of anyone I've ever met. Once when I was trying to help him make a purchase over the phone, I asked him for his card, and instead he just rattled off the entire number, expiration date, and code on the back! He remembered places, dates, and people with exactness decades after the events and people were long gone. 

Fred and Blossom's 50th anniversary

I loved talking about family history with my grandpa. He had stories of his family, mostly his mom's side. When I got into genealogy and started learning about our more distant relatives, he was always interested in the stories I found. Family meant everyting to him, past or present. 

Four generations of Gibsons - Me, Dave, Fred, and 3 of my kids

It's so surreal to think he's on the other side of the veil now. Just a couple weeks ago, we were at my parents' house the day before heading out for Idaho, and he came down with several of his kids for a big dinner. He was talking and having a great time with all of us. That's how I will always remember him - just sitting in a comfy chair, talking and laughing, or dozing off for a bit, but just a great guy to be around. It will be hard to wait to see him again, but I know grandma is happy to be with him, along with his mom and dad, Levi, Jimmy, and all the other family that I'm sure were there to greet him. 

Fred in Hawaii in 2003

God be with you till we meet again, grandpa. We love you. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

This is why you don't tease dogs

I've been doing professional research for a few years now, and it has been an amazing and fulfilling career so far. I love being able to help people find answers to their family history questions and mysteries, and in turn I've been able to make some great discoveries in my own family. One downside, however, is I sometimes end up treating those rare moments when I get to do my own family research a bit like a they're a research project - pick something to search for, frantically search for everything I can find as fast as I can find it, quickly document it, and move on. I don't often give my findings time to sink in and affect me. 

 I've been taking advice from a genealogist I follow named Heather Murphy, and slowing down a bit on my research. Starting with the intention of going slow is a few feeling, and I really like it. So today I set out to find some stories about my second-great-grandmother Maria Zitzmann aka Mary Hoffman. I'm super lucky to have a boatload of pictures of her and her family, but I still don't have too many stories about her and her life. I was hoping to find something about her marriage in 1919 to Christ Hoffman, but my searches at first turned up empty. Then a new idea hit me - find her address, and search for that. I went looking in city directories before her marriage, and found her in 1917, living at 1315 Cobban Street in Butte. Interestingly, the directory lists her as the widow of a man named Smith. That's really curious, as her daughters would later both state in their Social Security applications that their father was a man named Chris Schmidt, though DNA evidence points to them being half-sisters.

Now that I had her address, I searched through newspapers to see if anything came up, and I found a few really cool things! 

First I found a photo of my grandma Blossom's cousin Ellen Weyhe (listed as Ellen Whyte) taken when she was about a year old. It's a studio photo, with the name Dore Studio in the bottom right corner, with Ellen all dressed up in a cute little dress complete with baby shoes. 

Then I found two articles about something I'd never heard of, and my dad hadn't either when I asked him. Apparently soon after their marriage, Mary and Christ Hoffman owned a rather large dog and kept it in their yard. The first article said the dog had severely bitten the right hand of "the little Lohman boy," the son of Ed Lohman. A search of the 1920 census showed me this was Raymond Carrigg, the 13-year-old stepson of Edward Lohman, who also lived in Butte. The article went on to say the Assistant City Attorney filed a complaint against Mary and Christ's dog, saying he had appeared "to prove himself vicious" and notified them to not send the dog out of the city, as that might give "him an opportunity to bite some one else." The tenor of the article made it sound like the Hoffmans' dog was running loose in the city and just attacked the kid. The next few paragraphs talked about the dangers of the local dog population, and even suggested a law be made restricting the number of dogs citizens could own, based on their type of residence and the purpose of the dogs' being there. 

The next day, another article continued the story, but with significant changes to the story, starting with the headline - "Dog Is Acquitted Of Being Vicious Brute." Several of the Hoffmans' neighbors testified in court that the dog was kept in an enclosed yard. What's more, the pickets of their fence were too close together for the dog to be able to stick its head out between them, so that the only way for anyone's hand to be exposed to the dog would be to put their hand over the fence. Not only that, a number of boys (apparently including Raymond Carrigg) had actually attacked the dog by throwing sticks and stones at it. Mary Hoffman had been out at the time of the attack, and returned home to find her yard "littered with sticks, stones and other rubbish and that the coal scuttle was smashed, evidently by the boys who were pelting the dog." Needless to say, the case was then dismissed. 

I could almost see in my mind a group of youths having fun at the dog's expense, and then Raymond, goading him on by sticking his hand above the fence and thinking himself out of reach, gets bitten by the dog they'd been antagonizing. I kind of feel bad, but I feel he brought it on himself. It sounds like the dog was not injured in the attack, but I hope the Hoffmans at least got their coal scuttle replaced. I feel bad for the Hoffmans in finding their dog had been so cruelly treated, and grateful to the neighbors for sticking up for an innocent animal. 

PS - I looked up Raymond Carrigg's draft registration from 1942, which would mention any defining physical characteristics like scars, missing fingers, etc. Nothing was mentioned, so apparently he healed just fine from the dog bite.