Archive for November, 2012

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My great grandfather, Harry McWhirter Barrett (1869-1940) was adopted by his aunt,  Eleanor “Nellie Blake” Barrett (1846-1930) and her husband, Charles S. Barrett (1841-1924) in December of 1878.  He became the oldest of their 6 children, and their only son.

His adoptive sister, Mary Zuba Barrett (1878-1955) married George Rowe Staley (1874-1961) in Titusville, Crawford, Pennsylvania, on 26 June 1902.  They settled with their family in Rome, Oneida, New York. They were the parents of Eleanor Staley Keiser (1903-1937), Marion Staley Sharples (1909-1999), and Charles Barrett Staley (1911-1988) who went by his middle name, Barrett.

Early on in my family history research I found record of this family, but it took me years to find any specific information about Barrett.

Recently I came across a eulogy for Barrett’s wife, Ruth Sprague Staley (1918-2000), posted on Ancestry.com by Bill Thompson.  The eulogy was given by Steve Sharples at Ruth’s funeral in August of 2000. Bill was kind enough to give me his permission to post it here.

As I was reading through the text, I realized that in addition to it being a eulogy, it was also, very much, a love story. And, like every other female on the planet, I’m a sucker for a great love story.

Here it is. =)

Ruth C. Staley (Sprague)

June 10, 1918 – August 9, 2000

Ruth Staley was born to Ruth and Charles Sprague on June 10, 1918, in Herkimer, New York. It’s a small town located on the Erie Canal just 70 miles south of the Adirondack Mountains. Her mother, Ruth Cleaves Sprague, was a kindergarten teacher and her father, Charles S. Sprague, worked as the county’s Surrogate Clerk preparing wills and handling safety deposit boxes. It was a simpler time when electricity was still considered a luxury and common courtesy was, in fact, still common. There was a woodworking factory in town which made desks and bookcases and nutcrackers and nut picks and, according to Ruth, it was a good thing too, as Herkimer had more than its share of nuts.

Her father Charles and his close friend, Frank Dingman, each married school teachers. The couples had become friends so they decided to move into together with Ruth and her folks living upstairs, and the Dingmans living downstairs. The Dingmans also had a daughter named Margaret who three months older than Ruth and so it was appropriate that they should grow up and become lifelong friends.

Although Ruth had relatives on her mother’s side of the family, they lived far away and she didn’t see them very much. “It wasn’t that we didn’t talk with them,” she explained, “it was just that they lived so far away. I never saw my mother’s father and we were even born on the same day, June 10th, but he sent me a puppy for my fourth or fifth birthday. Oh, you should have seen the look on my face.”

During the summers Ruth and her folks would make their way up into the mountains in upstate New York where there were many lakes and cooler weather. She developed a love of fishing and told a funny story regarding her father. “See my father didn’t use the rod and reel like other people, he liked to troll for the fish. He’d go out in the row boat, drop a net and then row for them. And a neighbor friend by the name of Ross Slider use to comment. “There goes Charlie, out taking his fish for a ride again.”

Lake George, New York

I’m not exactly sure of the year her father died. (Charles died in 1944) She undoubtedly learned some hard lessons at that age, after losing family members and friends. I seem to remember a statistic that one in four families at that time had someone who had died as result of the war. They were tough lessons.

She went on to business school with the help of an Uncle, probably between 1936 and 1940. Perhaps this is about the time her father passed on.

I’m not sure when exactly Ruth met Barrett, but I assume it was after high school. This is the way Ruth tells the story… “I had known Barrett for several years before we were married. We had a lot of the same friends in Herkimer. My cousin introduced us.” I believe they dated but chose to be friends. Later, each became engaged to someone else, but things didn’t work out and neither one of them married. After the war, Barrett was working in Detroit for Essex Wire by day, and for a company called Print-O-Tape by night. Print-O-Tape offered him a full time job as office manager, but he’d have to work in the headquarters in Libertyville, Illinois. He accepted and moved in September of 1948. Despite the move, he continued his friendship with Ruth in the many letters he wrote to her. “I like being a big cog in a small wheel” he said, explaining life in small town. Libertyville had a population of 5000. He was office manager of a small company and although there wasn’t a whole lot going on, he found it to his liking. He spoke of bowling and golfing and if he could just swap the two scores, well then, he’d be pretty good.

In 1951, Ruth was hit with another hardship. At age 33, still single and still living in Herkimer, Ruth’s beloved mother passed away and Ruth was now pretty much alone. She expressed her grief to Barrett and within six weeks Barrett asked Ruth if she might like to come live with him in Herkimer. “This was Barrett’s way of proposing,” she explained. “I said pretty much anywhere I hang my hat is my home, so, I said yes. One week I was meeting the family up at Lake George and the next I was living in Libertyville.”

Ruth and Barrett were married August 10, 1951 on the banks of Lake George at father Staley’s cottage. Now we’ve all heard the story of how they had to wait for the motor boat to go by before exchanging their vows. But this, ironically, is a pretty good example of how things have gone for them. They‘ve had to wait sometimes for goods to come their way. But eventually they would make it. They had to learn to roll with the punches, and they eventually persevered.

Sunset at Lake George, New York 

Barrett was 7 years Ruth’s senior. He was 40 years old, and she was 33, that was rather old to be living single at the time. But together, after years of friendship, they decided to start a marriage. And as we all know, the foundation for any successful marriage is that of a loving friendship. Over time they fell deeply in love.

They became inseparable, spending time together watching ball games, visiting with friends, going to parties, or just hanging out reading Andy Rooney. They spent almost all their time together as Ruth got a job at Print-o-tape. “Barrett kept bringing work home with him and I helped him do the work. Well when he started bringing more work home with him I told Barrett to tell his boss he was crazy if he’d thought I’d keep that up. I knew they had an extra desk lying around and I wanted it, and so I got it, and that’s how I got hired.” So together they worked at Print-o-tape, together they went home for lunch, together they went back to Print-o-tape, and together they went home. How many marriages you think could have survived that? They truly loved each other.

Barrett Staley & Ruth Sprague Staley c 1960

(Photo courtesy of Bill & Marti Thompson)

After more than 25 years at Print-O-Tape, 37 years of marriage and more than 40 years of friendship, Barrett passed away on August 12, 1988; Ruth’s heart was, once again, broken.


Barrett was everything to her. He was the love of her life. She thought of him daily and didn’t know if she could carry on without him. But despite the uncertainty of life, she did it. Libertyville continued to grow and the world around her changed. And Ruth discovered she still had a family in us.

She gave of herself, donating her time to Blue Smock, which raised money for the local hospital. She gave of herself, in the phone calls she made to us, in the letters she wrote, and in the cookies she baked. When she discovered the amount of money she had in her estate as a result of Sara Lee investments, she decided to give all away rather than spend on herself.

In June of 1998, Marti Thompson arranged a birthday party for Ruth. Ruth’s family showed up and it was grand. We continued to write and talk on the phone and occasionally get together for holidays. In a diary entry around Christmas of last year (1999) Ruth wrote, “My only wish was that Barrett could have lived to have the fun too.” She continued, “I find that crying is the only thing I do best (now) but doesn’t help much.”

I recounted this story to Ruth the last time I saw her, whispering it in her ear while she lay there in bed. Her eyes were closed and she’d been fading in and out, but it drew smile. We both knew it was time. I told her that it would be all right, just like Barrett said. And then I gave her a kiss and I said my goodbyes. And I then headed back to California. Ruth died a day later on August 9th of this year. Oddly enough it was just a day before her 49th wedding anniversary.

I bet she probably wanted to spend it with Barrett. And after all these years, I don’t blame her. It’s as it should be, together again, this time forever.

Ruth & Barrett Staley’s Gravestone at Rome Cemetery , Rome, Oneida, New York

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barrett, harry mcwhirterHarry McWhirter Barrett 1869-1940

When I was a kid I remember my mother telling me that her grandfather, Harry McWhirter Barrett, had been raised by a couple who were not his biological parents. I didn’t think much about it at the time, and I can’t remember why she shared that information with me in the first place, but years later when I began having children of my own I started to wonder about him. What was his story? Who was it that had actually raised him? And, what happened to his birth parents? So, I went in search of information on the internet and at my local Family History Library. So, after many years of searching, this is what I’ve found.

Harry McWhirter Barrett was actually born Harry B. McWhirter, on 4 July 1869 in Holland, Orleans, Vermont, to Samuel McWhirter and Almira Blake.  Harry had two older siblings, a sister, born 21 January 1861 who died just 13 days later, and a brother, Wilmer McWhirter born 28 September, 1864. I can find no death record for Wilmer, but he is not listed on the 1870 Census with his family. On 2 April 1871, Almira gave birth to another daughter, but both she and the baby died that same day, leaving Samuel alone to raise a then, 2 year old Harry.

Blake, Almira c1870Almira Blake McWhirter 1836-1871

In November of 1874, Samuel was working at a cotton mill in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.  The following newspaper article appeared in the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel on 21 November 1874, announcing Samuel’s death on the 18th.  From the content of the article it appears that Samuel was both living and working in Fitchburg. I’m not sure where Harry was living at this point, but he wasn’t with Samuel. So, Harry was left an orphan in the fall of 1874 at the age of 5.

Samuel McWhirter Obituary_edited

Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, 21 November 1874

I found the following record from the State of Vermont regarding Harry.


Office Of Secretary Of State, 1 Northfield November 2, 1878. j I hereby certify that the foregoing three hundred and eighteen numbers are true copies of the Acts and Resolves passed by the General Assembly at its biennial session, A. D. 1878, as appears from the files and records of this office.

GEORGE NICHOLS, Secretary of State. 


Returned to the office of the Secretary of State, in pursuance of Section Eleven of Chapter Fifty-six of the General Statutes. 

 On the 17th day of October, A. D. 1877, Charles Barrett, and his wife Eleanor J. Barrett, of Titusville, in the county of Crawford and State of Pennsylvania, adopted Harry B. McWhirter of Derby, in the county of Orleans and State of Vermont. a minor, as their heir and .child, capable of inheriting, and name changed to Harry McWhirter Barrett. 

I had no idea how Charles & Eleanor Barrett were related to Harry, but I figured they must be family. I knew Almira’s last name was Blake, so I started searching through microfilmed records of the 1850 census for Vermont for her family.  According to the index, Almira’s family should have been in the specific area on the microfilm I was looking at, but they weren’t. At that point, I had been looking at microfilmed records for hours, and was disappointed and oh so tired. And then, I heard this voice in my head say, “I’m here, keep looking.”  I remember thinking  that, clearly, I’d been there waaayy too long…now I was hearing voices in my head. But, I kept on scrolling through the roll of film…and right at the end, filmed out of order, was the census page with Almira Blake’s family. Wow.

 1850 Census Derby, Orleans, Vermont

As I read down the list of names of Blake family members, I discovered who it was who had raised Harry. The Eleanor J. Barrett who was Harry’s adoptive mother? Was Almira Blake McWhirter’s  baby sister,  Eleanor J. Blake. And then, for whatever reason, I found myself weeping.

Blake Barrett, EleanorEleanor “Nellie” Blake Barrett 1846-1930

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For Jenavieve

The sudden death of a loved one has a way of calling into sharp relief  the things that matter most. I received word last night that my friend, Jenavieve Phillips, was killed in a motorcycle accident Friday evening on her way home from work.

Since then, the memory reel in my mind has been running through clips of conversations and moments we’d shared in our all too brief association with each other.

She was young and beautiful and loved adventure. She was tough and brave and never backed away from a challenge, she’d  just power right on through whatever it was with determination and faith.

She was kind, loving and compassionate, and was always looking for ways to be of service to those around her.

The last time I talked with Jenavieve, she had called me looking to see if I might be able to help out a friend of hers. I don’t remember much about the rest of the conversation, but I do remember our last words to each other that day were “Love you.”

How grateful I am  for that memory, and for the opportunity I had to work with her and to have her as my friend.

She was amazing, and I will miss her.

January 2010

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Thank You

Isaac Blake 1804-1883 Civil War

Samuel McWhirter  1837-1874 Civil War

Henry Edwards 1822-1862 Civil War

Hugh Edwards Barrett 1897-1918 WWI

Frank Garrison Davis 1895-1918 WWI

Arthur Wilhelm Hermann Krueger 1891-1918 WWI

Oscar Karl Robert Krueger 1891-1983 WWI

Grover Weston Ramsell 1884-1949 WWI

Charles McWhirter Barrett 1909-1967 WWII

Donald Rolfe Decker 1908-1945 MIA  WWII

Frederick Clifford Thomas Jr. 1918-2006 WWII

Henry Elmer Zane 1914-1993 WWII

John Weston Ramsell 1932-1970 Korea

Bretton Gilbert Smith 1920-1997 Korea

Ray Chandler Smith 1931-1951 Korea

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Tree Heart Border

One of my favorite cousins told me recently, that I needed to start a blog….hence the title of this post. Easy for him to say. He’s an amazingly talented writer and has many interesting things to say. The weird part is, I’d had the very same thought come to me earlier that morning. I immediately lol’d, then dismissed it. Although I may have many interesting stories to tell, I do not share his gift for writing.

What we do share in common, besides a set of  Irish immigrant grandparents, is a great love of (ok…well…admittedly…it’s more like an all consuming obsession with)  Family History.

The interesting stories I have to tell are of my ancestors, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, spanning back over generations of time. I research to find evidence of where, when and how they lived and then, where, when and how they died.

 In the searching, I’ve come across personal letters, old photographs, and newspaper articles, that have helped me come to know, at least in part, who they were as people. The letters gave me a view into their personal  lives, and into their hearts. As I came to know them, their stories, and their hearts, I fell in love with them. How could I not?  These were amazing people…and they are mine, but not mine alone. My job and my great privilege is to be able to share their stories with the world.

This blog is for them.

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Thomas/Krueger Ancestry

Family history for the Thomas and Krueger Families

Yellow Rose Productions

Where creativity is only the beginning

Hearts of the Fathers

Prepare thyself to search their fathers....shall not they teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their hearts? Job 8:8-10

Aileen Rose

Prepare thyself to search their fathers....shall not they teach thee, and tell thee, and utter words out of their hearts? Job 8:8-10